The Security Council is meeting today to discuss the escalating conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. What we know based on press reports so far is this: four bombs fell in and around a refugee camp just south of the border in South Sudan. No one was killed, but one bomb landed near a crowded school, and failed to detonate.
The international response to this attack is starting to take shape. The UN Refugee Agency, which administers the Yida camp where the bombing occurred, condemned the attack. As did the White House, which sent around a statement last night. The activist community is also piling on. I just received this statement from Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast calling for the enforcement of a no-fly zone over South Sudan and vulnerable communities in the south part of north Sudan.
“The Security Council should urgently expand the existing ban on offensive military flights over Darfur (Security Council Resolution 1591) to other areas of Sudan and South Sudan, and then enforce it aggressively. Sudan has now expanded its aerial bombing across sovereign borders. This is a genuine and immediate threat to international peace and security. This impending crisis was precisely the kind of situation the United Nations Security Council was created to counter.”
The Sudanese air force’s targeting of civilians is nothing new. What makes this attack so different is that it occurred across an international border. This changes the dynamic in the Security Council considerably. Countries that are traditionally less inclined to support international intervention in what could be considered a civil war tend to justify their position on state sovereignty grounds. That has always been the heavy lift in supporting robust action against the Sudanese government; most of their violence was directed at their own citizens.
Now Sudan appears to be starting an international war. Sending planes across a border to bomb a refugee camp in another country is very clearly a breach of international peace and security. The state sovereignty argument just melts away.
Another dynamic to consider is that a no-fly zone over South Sudan does not require Security Council approval. South Sudan is a sovereign country. Juba could simply invite a foreign power to help patrol its skies. That doesn’t help communities trapped north of the border, but it is an ace in the back-pocket for activists calling for further international intervention.
The other thing to consider is that every time the Security Council, the UN or even the International Criminal Court takes punitive action against Sudan, the Sudanese government responds by restricting humanitarian access to communities in Darfur or vulnerable communities in the South. This is the classic conundrum in calls for coercive measures against Sudan, and I don’t think there is one right answer. But it is a trade off that requires serious discussion.