Testimony by Catholic Relief Services Before Senate Foreign Relations, July 11, 2002

Year Published
  • 2013
  • English

Testimony of Paul Townsend
Country Representative
Sudan Program
Catholic Relief Services

Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Sub-committee Subcommittee on African Affairs

July 11, 2002

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the Sub-committee on African Affairs, for organizing this hearing. I am honored to have the opportunity to testify. 

My name is Paul Townsend and I am the Country Representative for the Sudan Program of Catholic Relief Services, based in Nairobi, Kenya. Catholic Relief Services has been involved in Sudan for 30 years, has been a founding member of Operation Lifeline Sudan, and is today the largest private voluntary organization operating in southern Sudan, serving an estimated 400,000 Sudanese. 

We are all familiar with the tragedy in Sudan. With an estimated two million lives lost in this conflict and four and a half million more displaced since 1983 alone, Sudan is the most desperate humanitarian disaster on our planet. 

In light of the recent, intense, and sustained international diplomatic efforts following in the wake of the Danforth Mission, the people of Sudan are offered a unique opportunity to move forward on a political solution to their 19-year long deadly civil war. As in most civil conflicts, the questions remain as to the depth and breadth of the political will of all parties involved, particularly the Government in Khartoum and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). 

In response to your invitation, Mr. Chairman, I'll primarily direct my remarks to the issues of humanitarian access into Sudan. I will emphasize, in particular, several obstacles to the stated US policy goal of unimpeded humanitarian access throughout Sudan. 

It is important to note that the vast majority of casualties in the Sudanese conflict have been noncombatants who died of famine and health-related causes. Any meaningful attempt to staunch the loss of life in Sudan must recognize humanitarian concerns as an intrinsic and inseparable component of political negotiations. If the current humanitarian crisis continues to deteriorate we could see a situation as devastating as the famine of 1998 in which an estimated 70,000 people died. The tremendous loss of life in such a scenario would undermine any peace process currently underway.

The Physical Challenge of Providing Humanitarian Aid:

The size and geographical complexity of Sudan make it one of the most difficult places in the world to deliver humanitarian services. An estimated 25-30 million people live in an area roughly equivalent to the size of the United States east of the Mississippi River. The southern third of the country is racked by war, famine, intense human displacement, and is strewn with the bones of millions of Sudanese women, children, and men. More than 5 million people live in this region nearly the size of the state of Texas. Medical facilities, communications, and essential road infrastructure are largely non-existent throughout much of this region. Overland travel is severely hindered by impassable rivers and mangrove swamps, and is rendered nearly impossible during the rainy season.

A Framework for Humanitarian Relief:

Operation Lifeline Sudan is a UN-coordinated relief effort comprising UN agencies and more than forty international and local non-governmental organizations. In response to the severe famine in Sudan in 1988 that claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people, the Government in Khartoum, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army and the United Nations jointly established Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS). OLS was the world's largest humanitarian effort of its kind, and the UN's first negotiated access program. Today, it remains one of the most extensive and complex relief operations in the world. 

OLS was established through the signing of the Beneficiary Protocol by the three main parties -- the Government in Khartoum; the SPLM/A; and the UN. This protocol set forth a series of guarantees to ensure a safe and continuous supply of humanitarian assistance (access) to populations most affected by the war in Sudan. The first principle of the protocol affirms that war-affected populations have the right to receive humanitarian assistance, a right enshrined in international humanitarian law through the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949, an the two Additional Protocols of 1977.

Political Obstacles to Humanitarian Access:

Despite its commitments, the Government in Khartoum has systematically ignored the humanitarian protection afforded by the Protocols. 

  • As part of the Operation Lifeline Sudan agreement, flight requests must be submitted to the Government in Khartoum and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement/Army for approval each month, with the understanding that either party can approve or deny access based on their respective security assessments. These assessments are made without prior consultation and with no recourse for appeal.
  • In direct contradiction to its obligation as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions and the OLS Beneficiary Protocol, the Government in Khartoum has consistently restricted humanitarian access to vulnerable populations in Sudan through the abuse of this approval process, and has obstructed the delivery of essential aid and services through other bureaucratic barriers.
  • Some areas in Sudan such as the Nuba Mountains have been inaccessible to humanitarian agencies for years, and currently the Bahr al Ghazal and western Upper Nile regions, precisely where there is the greatest need for assistance, have been denied access to sustained humanitarian assistance for several months. Eastern Equatoria, where Catholic Relief Services supports over 200,000 internally displaced and war-affected people, has been consistently denied flight access since 1998.
  • Typically the Government in Khartoum denies access to 25 locations per month. This month the Government has denied access to approximately 50 locations in southern Sudan, and all of Eastern Equatoria, placing an additional 1.7 million people at risk of famine and disease.
  • In addition to a listing of the areas requested for access, the Government in Khartoum has demanded maps and coordinates of the locations to which relief assistance is to be supplied and the airstrips to be used. The Government in Khartoum has repeatedly employed military gunships and Antonov bombers to disrupt humanitarian operations and displace human populations. In February 2002, government gunships attacked a crowd of civilians who had gathered for food distribution. Many other attacks on civilian populations and humanitarian operations have been recorded but little has been done to stop these vicious attacks. When pressured to respond, the Government in Khartoum issues tepid statements suggesting that these 'attacks' are nothing more than "regrettable mistakes" or "technical errors." The Government continues to impede humanitarian operations in western Upper Nile, Bahr al Ghazal and the Equatoria regions to the present.
  • The Government in Khartoum has demanded that all flights entering Sudanese airspace from the south be cleared by the air control tower in Juba. This creates an impossible situation given that the Juba tower has a radio range of approximately 50 nautical miles, and that aircraft enter Sudanese territory approximately 150 nautical miles away from Juba, much too far to establish the required VHF radio contact.
  • Recently the Government in Khartoum called for the closure of the Lokichoggio base, the main center of operations for humanitarian agencies going into opposition held areas of Sudan, an option declared "unacceptable" by the US Special Humanitarian Coordinator Andrew Natsios.
  • Again in direct contradiction to the OLS Beneficiary Protocol signed as part of a tripartite agreement, the Government in Khartoum unilaterally declared in May of this year that access into western Upper Nile would be limited to five days only and all flights would be required to originate from within government controlled areas.

These are but a few examples of a long history and a clear intent of the Government in Khartoum to manipulate the delivery of international humanitarian aid. According to recent testimony from USAID,"[t]hese obstacles are so consistent as to amount to a deliberate strategy" (R. Winter. Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Relations, June 5, 2002).

All parties to the conflict in Sudan bear the responsibility to ensure safe access for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to non-combatants, and it is clear both parties have failed in those responsibilities. Military insecurity and the misappropriation of aid consistently impede the delivery of humanitarian assistance. I want to stress that in the case of Sudan, though, that it is abundantly clear that the greatest obstacle to the delivery of humanitarian assistance now is the long-standing practice of flight denials. The party responsible for these flight denials is clearly the Government in Khartoum.

Consequences of the Denial of Access:

In some areas, flight denials by the Government in Khartoum are endangering the lives of humanitarian agency staff by forcing the use of highly insecure overland routes. Traveling overland in these areas exposes staff to multiple security risks including landmines, military ambush, and armed theft and attack. Over the past 18 months staff members of at least five humanitarian aid organizations have been killed, including Onen Joseph Clay of Catholic Relief Services, killed in the line of duty September 1, 2001.

The crisis is made all the more urgent in that Sudan is now facing a potentially severe famine. It is critical that full access be granted to humanitarian personnel so that a comprehensive assessment and appropriate preparations be made to avert this impending human disaster. According to a recent UN report, more than 1.7 million people are currently at risk. Acute and chronic malnutrition has been registered throughout many of the regions of the Upper Nile, Bahr al Ghazal, and Equatoria, conditions similar to the famine in 1998. Overland deliveries of humanitarian assistance to these regions will be impossible or seriously inadequate due to severe obstacles posed by overland travel. Flight access to these areas must be guaranteed -- absent of this, tens of thousands of people face an uncertain future.

Economic Obstacles to Aid Delivery:

A serious concern to those of us involved in the delivery of humanitarian and development assistance to the peoples of Sudan is oil. The Catholic Bishops of Sudan have repeatedly called upon oil companies, their governments, and the international community to halt all exploration and development of oil in Sudan until peace can be negotiated. As a result of further oil development, and the attempt to create an extensive buffer zone to protect investments and workers, we continue to witness the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of southern Sudanese. As people are forced to move from their homelands, they join the millions of others who have been forcibly displaced, thus deepening the humanitarian crisis. The Government in Khartoum denies to an increasing number of displaced persons the means necessary for their survival. Oil thus perpetuates and deepens the humanitarian crisis and will continue to do so unless and until a consistent policy is developed to adequately deal with the full impact of the Government's program to take control of oil-rich regions in southern Sudan.

Further Obstacles to US Policy:

One of the most difficult issues confronting the people of Sudan is that of political self-determination. Since 1994, this principle has become a galvanizing force for many Sudanese even if a full and developed understanding of its meaning and application has not been publicly debated. The Sudan Council of Churches including the Catholic Church of Sudan continue to endorse this principle as a means to two complementary ends: a respect for the fundamental dignity of the Sudanese people in all dimensions of their lives; and as a powerful political instrument providing additional incentive to all parties to commit to a substantive and measurable peace process. 

Notwithstanding the future political status of people living in areas outside the control of the Government in Khartoum, there is a serious lack of civic education, empowerment, and institution building. This represents a major obstacle to full political participation and to progress towards a viable and just peace. Greater attention must be given to the development of institutions capable of promoting informed political participation and the rule of law. This holds true equally in southern Sudan, in Nuba Mountains, in other marginalized areas, and throughout all of Sudan. 

A crucial obstacle to implementing U.S. policy in Sudan is the fact that the United States and the international community have yet to identify and employ the incentives and pressures necessary to ensure that the parties to the conflict in Sudan honor their agreements. As Special Envoy Danforth alluded to in his report, the history of Sudan is littered with failed agreements. The current efforts to address this conflict will only be credible to the extent the parties are held accountable for the commitments they have made.

Recommendations to Improve Humanitarian Conditions in Sudan:

  1. The United States and the international community must make progress on humanitarian issues, including those of access, a clear priority as part of any negotiations and relationship with the Government in Khartoum.
  2. The United States must encourage the United Nations to strengthen its leadership role in ensuring access and sustained humanitarian assistance, and end the use of arbitrary flight denials by naming the Operation Lifeline Sudan Security Management Team (SMT) as the independent mechanism for determining humanitarian access.
  3. The Verification Mission, as brokered by Senator Danforth, must be implemented without delay. Monitors must be fully supported and granted unimpeded access to all areas of Sudan, whether Government or opposition held, especially where oil is being developed. The mandate of the Verification Mission must be broad in scope and coordinated with other diplomatic and humanitarian efforts so as to further the cause of peace.
  4. Corporations and governments involved in the exploration, extraction, production, and sale of Sudanese oil must be made to recognize and take responsibility for stopping the impact these activities have in escalating the war, limiting humanitarian access, and ultimately contributing to loss of innocent lives.
  5. The right of the people of Sudan to determine for themselves how they are to be defined as a people and governed as a society must be upheld. This should be viewed as an essential building block for peace and an instrument leading to greater political self-reliance among the peoples of Sudan. 

The recommendations I have outlined reflect a strong consensus in the American Catholic community. I have appended some of the policy statements that embody this consensus.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, I would underscore that Congress has a crucial role to play in implementing the recommendations I have outlined. If you find merit in the recommendations, I would urge that you seek the support of your colleagues and build these proposals into resolutions and appropriations passed by the Congress. I would also ask that you work hand in hand with the Bush Administration and its special envoys to ensure humanitarian access in Sudan and to prevent the repeat of another looming tragedy. I would further request that you support the work of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations in their unrelenting efforts to prevent widespread famine and human suffering in Sudan. I thank you for your consideration and welcome the opportunity to respond to any questions.

Appendix 1: "Statement on Sudan" Bernard Cardinal Law. March 28, 2000.

Appendix 2: "Sudan's Cry for Peace" National Conference of Catholic Bishops/ United States Catholic Conference. November 14, 2000.

Appendix 3: "Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops Delegation to Sudan". April 5, 2001.

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