New Senate Bill Demands Humanitarian Access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile

Posted by Annie Callaway

Following last Wednesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing at which George Clooney and John Prendergast testified about their recent trip to the Nuba Mountains, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution calling on the Sudanese government and the SPLM-North to cease hostilities and find a political solution to the conflict ongoing since June 2011. The resolution also emphasizes the need for Khartoum to allow “immediate and unrestricted humanitarian access to the conflict areas” and expresses support for President Obama’s current efforts, alongside international partners, to find a way to provide relief to civilians. Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) co-sponsored the new bill.

The Khartoum regime has repeatedly blocked demands from the international community to allow humanitarian access to South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and any other conflict-affected area of Sudan, such as Darfur. Last month, the U.S., the African Union, and the Arab League of Nations presented the Sudanese government with a tripartite proposal aimed at establishing a cooperative and comprehensive approach to addressing several of the issues Sudan is currently facing. But with Khartoum showing little interest in adopting the terms of the proposal, the U.S. Senate is attempting to maneuver other options for pressuring the regime.

With at least 250,000 people expected to face starvation in the coming months and the rainy season fast approaching, a crucial window for delivering aid is closing. If Khartoum refuses to cooperate in allowing food into the region, the international community will be faced with the possibility of having to violate state sovereignty in order to prevent the Sudanese government from eradicating innocent civilians.

In addition to addressing the urgent humanitarian crisis, the Senate resolution also encourages Sudan and South Sudan to continue negotiations and come to fair agreements on outstanding issues. This entails sorting out citizenship status for southerners living in the North, settling on prices for oil production and transport, and having both states agree to cease any support of proxy militias to fight the opposing government.

Coming to an agreement on these issues is essential not only for the success and survival of the two Sudans, but it also has important implications for other nations with financial investments in the region. For example, if China—or other big investors in the oil industry such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar—can be persuaded to up the pressure on Khartoum, Bashir would hopefully realize that dragging out the negotiations process is not in his best economic interest.

With celebrities like George Clooney raising the profile on Sudan, and the Kony 2012 video from Invisible Children becoming the most viral video of all time, the American public is displaying a rare peak in interest in addressing these issues. It is important to take advantage of this spotlight on America’s policy efforts in the region to galvanize action to mitigate the impact of the conflict on civilians and find a lasting solution to the tensions that provoked fighting in the first place. If Khartoum continues to wage a war of attrition against its own citizens and ignore demands to allow aid access to the affected regions, the international community will soon be forced to take more serious steps in order to prevent the onset of another Darfur.