On 17 December 1999, the Globe
and Mail published an article entitled 'My Week on the
Cusp of War'. The article was written by Globe and Mail
feature writer Stephanie Nolen, and appeared following a one-week
visit by Ms Nolen to an area within southern Sudan controlled
by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), a southern Sudanese
As has been previously commented upon, the article was remarkably
unprofessional. The Globe and Mail failed to research
even the most rudimentary facts about Sudan. The paper clearly
did not attempt to independently check any of the claims it
carried. And, in a further another example of sloppy journalism,
the Globe and Mail published material it openly admitted
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this article, however,
was the fact that the Globe and Mail almost completely
ignored the nature and appalling human rights record of the
SPLA. Its attempt to whitewash the SPLA's involvement in what
can only be described as a catalogue of war crimes and human
rights abuses is breathtaking. The SPLA been guilty of systematic
human rights abuses from its very formation in 1983. In its
article on Sudan, however, the Globe and Mail glosses
over the SPLA's appalling human rights record in one sentence,
stating merely that the SPLA "forcibly conscripts young
men and deals harshly with deserters".
The Globe and Mail: Apologists for SPLA
The Globe and Mail's claims and accuracy in reporting
should perhaps be assessed against objective and neutral sources.
For a newspaper as interested as it makes itself out to be
about human rights in Sudan, the Globe and Mail was
remarkably selective about those that were of interest to
A clearer picture emerges from the eight US-based humanitarian
organisations working in Sudan, including CARE, World Vision,
Church World Service, Save the Children and the American Refugee
Committee, no friends of the Sudanese government, who, at
the end of November 1999, felt it was their responsibility
to publicly state that the SPLA has:
engaged for years in the most serious human rights abuses,
including extrajudicial killings, beatings, arbitrary detention,
Human Rights Watch, similarly no friend of Khartoum, stated
in December 1999 that:
The SPLA has a history of gross abuses of human rights
and has not made any effort to establish accountability.
Its abuses today remain serious.
The Economist also perhaps summed up the general image
of the SPLA when it stated that:
[The SPLA] has.been little more than an armed gang of
Dinkas.killing, looting and raping. Its indifference, almost
animosity, towards the people it was supposed to be "liberating"
was all too clear.
The New York Times, a vigorous critic of the Sudanese
government, states that the SPLA:
[H]ave behaved like an occupying army,
killing, raping and pillaging.
The New York Times also categorised SPLA leader John
Garang as one of Sudan's "pre-eminent war criminals".
The Globe and Mail prefers instead to refer to Garang
as a "learned" man.
The Globe and Mail also prefers to cast the SPLA in
a different light, stating that "The SPLA relies on guerrilla
strikes, while the government fights its battle on civilians".
This particular attempt at whitewashing the SPLA falls very
short of its mark. It is demonstrably untrue.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Sudan,
for example, documented an incident in which John Garang's
SPLA forces attacked two villages in Ganyiel region in southern
Sudan. SPLA personnel killed 210 villagers, of whom 30 were
men, 53 were women and 127 were children. The Special Rapporteur
Eyewitnesses reported that some of the victims, mostly
women, children and the elderly, were caught while trying
to escape and killed with spears and pangas. M.N., a member
of the World Food Programme relief committee at Panyajor,
lost four of her five children (aged 8-15 years). The youngest
child was thrown into the fire after being shot. D.K. witnessed
three women with their babies being caught. Two of the women
were shot and one was killed with a panga. Their babies
were all killed with pangas. A total of 1, 987 households
were reported destroyed and looted and 3, 500 cattle were
The Ganyiel incident is sadly only one of many similar instances
of gross human rights abuses involving civilians - a self-evident
war on southern Sudanese civilians.
Amnesty International, for example, recorded an incident in
which SPLA forces lined up 32 women from the village of Pagau,
12 kilometres from Ayod in southern Sudan, and then shot each
once in the head. Eighteen children were reported to have
been locked in a hut which was then set on fire. Three children
who attempted to escape were then shot. The rest burnt to
death. In Paiyoi, an area north-east of Ayod, Amnesty International
reported that 36 women were burnt to death in a cattle byre.
Nine others were clubbed to death by the SPLA. Amnesty reported
that in April 1993, SPLA forces "massacred about 200
Nuer villagers, many of them children, in villages around
the town of Ayod. Some of the victims were shut in huts and
burnt to death. Others were shot."
The SPLA have also engaged in ethnic cleansing every bit as
murderous as that carried out in Bosnia or Kosovo. Following
a split in the SPLA, Amnesty International stated that the
two groups which emerged attacked each other and civilian
groups "for ethnic reasons". Amnesty International
stated that Garang's faction of the SPLA (largely Dinka, and
known then as SPLA-Torit) ethnically cleansed Nuer and other
civilians suspected of supporting the other faction:
In the early part of 1993 SPLA-Torit began an operation
which involved the destruction of villages thought to be
sympathetic to the Unity group. In January, 17 Latuka villages
around the Imatong and Dongotona mountain ranges were destroyed,
displacing tens of thousands of people. In the same month
Torit faction forces moved further north and attacked Pari
villages around the densely populated area of Jebel Lafon,
some 100 kilometres east of Juba. Scores of civilians remain
unaccounted for and are alleged to have been killed.
SPLA ethnic cleansing continues to this day. Throughout 1999,
for example, the BBC and other reliable sources, reported
on SPLA violence towards non-Dinka ethnic groups, groups which
"accused the SPLA of becoming an army of occupation".
These reports of SPLA ethnic cleansing, and tribalism, undermine
the Globe and Mail's propagandistic claim that the
"Dinka-dominated SPLA united most of the southern groups
beneath its multicoloured banner".
The SPLA has also murdered dozens of humanitarian aid workers
from the mid-1980s onwards. In one attack alone, for example,
SPLA gunmen killed 23 relief workers, drivers and assistants.
In 1998, the SPLA murdered relief workers in the Nuba mountains,
and in 1999 the SPLA murdered four aid workers assisting with
a Red Cross project in southern Sudan.
These examples are but a tiny fraction of the many war crimes
against civilians carried out by the SPLA. In Civilian
Devastation: Abuses by all Parties in the War in Southern
Sudan, a 279-page study, for example, Human Rights Watch
devoted 169 pages to SPLA human rights abuses (government
violations were dealt with over 52 pages). What must be borne
in mind is that it is rare that the incidents mentioned above
are actually documented by Western sources. In most instances
there simply are no survivors left in such attacks.
Readers can judge for themselves whether the Globe and
Mail claim that the SPLA only engages in guerrilla strikes
or whether it wages war on civilians is true. The question
which must be asked is whether the Globe and Mail has
taken the above stance and made these statements out of naivety
or in a deliberate attempt to deceive its readers in Canada.
Whatever the answer, the Globe and Mail is guilty of
crassly biased journalism.
The Globe and Mail also glosses over the SPLA's systematic
theft of humanitarian aid and its diversion for its own purposes.
While it did refer to the 1998 famine in southern Sudan, for
example, the paper did not mention that in July 1998, at the
height of this famine, the Roman Catholic Bishop of the starvation-affected
diocese of Rumbek, Monsignor Caesar Mazzolari, stated that
the SPLA were stealing 65 percent of the food aid going into
rebel-held areas of southern Sudan. Agence France Presse also
Much of the relief food going to more than a million
famine victims in rebel-held areas of southern Sudan is
ending up in the hands of the Sudan People's Liberation
Army (SPLA), relief workers said.
Perhaps the Globe and Mail does not believe such systematic
theft to be a gross abuse of human rights.
It is not just against civilians that the SPLA has been guilty
of unambiguous war crimes. Reputable human rights groups have
reported the SPLA's cold-blooded murder of prisoners of war.
Africa Watch, for example, reported that after the SPLA captured
the southern town of Bor there were "reports that a large
number of captured soldiers, possibly running into the hundreds,
were executed by the SPLA immediately following the capture".
Africa Watch also quoted a SPLA source who stated that government
soldiers captured after fighting were routinely killed. The
human rights group also recorded that there were "no
accounts of the SPLA holding prisoners of war from (pro-government)
militias." In 1998, the Sudanese Advisory Committee on
Human Rights and the human rights committee of the Sudanese
Parliament both issued statements which reported that the
SPLA had murdered more than one thousand prisoners of war.
The Globe and Mail saw fit nonetheless to state that
the SPLA "has a reputation for treating its prisoners
The Globe and Mail and Sudan: Some Questions
That Must be Answered
- Is the Globe and Mail committed to objective
and irresponsible reporting on Sudan? If it is, how does
it explain the obviously subjective, alarming inaccurate
and clearly irresponsible reporting in 'My Week on the
Cusp of War'? Or has the Globe and Mail taken sides
in the Sudanese conflict? Does the paper support the SPLA
and wish to see it come to power in southern Sudan? Should
this interest not be declared lest readers think the paper's
reporting is objective? Is the Globe and Mail willing
therefore to turn a blind eye to the going war crimes
and human rights abuses the SPLA has been party to?
- Would the Globe and Mail classify the hacking
to death, shooting or burning alive by the SPLA of 210
unarmed villagers, of which 30 were old men, 53 were women
and 127 were children, as a war crime or what it terms
a "guerrilla" strike? Was the Globe and Mail
aware of this horrific incident, one amongst many such