A Beacon of Hope: The Mother of Mercy Hospital in Sudan

Water and Sanitation: One of the wells drilled in Nuba Mountains
Water and Sanitation: One of the wells drilled in Nuba Mountains

According to BBC, up to 4,000 people are fleeing into South Sudan every day to escape fighting in Sudan’s Blue Nile province. Furthermore, an estimated 350,000 civilians have been driven from their homes by the fighting and many have fled to live in the caves of Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan. The Catholic Mother of Mercy hospital, the only functioning hospital located in South Kordofan, is serving approximately a million civilians who are currently engulfed in the war and who have been victims of indiscriminate artillery shelling and attacks.  As tensions continue to rise over border disputes, the civilian population on the Sudanese border continues to feel the aftershocks of the clashes between opposing sides.

When South Sudan claimed independence from Sudan in 2011, tensions regarding border disputes between the two sovereign states escalated dramatically. The lack of consensus of the exact borders and the lack of agreement regarding the vast oil fields that surround these vague borders further strained the relationship significantly. Both Sudan and South Sudan actually claimed sovereignty over Abyei, a city on the border of both states. Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-North), a rebel group who wishes to be part of the independent South Sudan, and Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) further clashed on June 5th 2011, causing Sudan to begin attacking the rebel group’s location in Southern Kordofan relentlessly.

According to BBC, SPLM-North see themselves as continuing in the footsteps of the movement from which they sprang, the SPLM of the late John Garang, who now runs the newly independent state of South Sudan. Since the independence in 2011, many SPLM forces in Blue Nile and South Kordofan were stranded in Sudan. Sudan then made it their mission to push these rebel groups out of these territories to their utmost capabilities.  Unfortunately, much of these territories are also highly populated by civilians who therefore feel the attacks by SAF. According to CNN, “The Sudanese military strategy seems clear: It aims to terrify and starve the civilians into leaving the area.” In new footage that was obtained and verified by CNN, the Sudanese government is shown to be now using cluster munitions in civilian areas. These cluster bombs are known to be indiscriminate and unreliable weapons and are therefore banned by international law.

In the documentary film by Unreported World called Terror in Sudan, teenage mother Alawiya, who lives in South Kordofan, tells Hartley how her new-born baby was killed in her arms by a blast that also claimed the lives of her mother and sister and tore off her right arm. The documentary also shows a doctor examining a seven-month-old baby and says that it has severe pneumonia and will die as Khartoum has banned the delivery of vaccines for children as well as supplementary foods for starving babies, and the United Nations, which evacuated in 2011, has delivered no supplies for a year.

Mother of Mercy Hospital is one of the few diocesan ministries remaining open and continues to push through the dire situation in this region.  It consists of one doctor, a few Catholic sisters, and a handful of volunteers. This hospital, which performed about 700 surgeries in the first quarter of 2012, is in desperate need of vaccines and medicine. Because the supplies sent by the World Health Organization must first travel through Khartoum, the possibility that they will never reach South Kordofan is very large.

Sharon de Souza and her colleagues Stefan Marx and Tyler Balding, who work for the Catholic Diocese of El Obeid, recently spoke in New York to the executive team of VIVAT International. They shared shocking statistics from their personal experiences, including the fact that over six primary schools, a secondary school of approximately 200 students, and training centers had all been closed because of the gravity of the problem in the region.

Furthermore, De Souza and her colleagues offered suggestions for advocacy and action which include: For protection of the rights of the people as stated in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement,Safe and unhindered access for international humanitarian actors to all civilians, and for a cessation of all military operations and bombardment. She further emphasized the idea of awareness and exposure of the events that are occurring because of the border disputes. When there is more awareness, there are higher chances of changing the status quo.

On May 17th 2012, Security Council Resolution 2407 was passed after all 15 members of the Council voted. The Security Council addressed their deep concern by “by all acts of violence committed in the Abyei Area against civilians in violation of international humanitarian law and human rights law, including the killing and displacement of significant numbers of civilians” and stressed the “need for effective human rights monitoring, and expressing concern at the lack of cooperation by the parties with the Secretary-General to this end.”  The Resolution therefore states the decision to extend the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei for another 6 months. It further welcomes the redeployment of South Sudanese military and police personnel from the Abyei Area and demands that the Government of Sudan redploy all remaining military and police personnel  as well. Furthermore, it demands that Sudan and South Sudan urgently finalize the establishment of the Abyei Area Administration.

Representatives from both Khartoum and Juba stated that both sides are open to negotiations on Abyei once the resolution was passed. “We confirm our willingness to resume negotiations with Sudan on these and other topics immediately, and we welcome President Mbeki’s efforts to start the talks process,” said Francis Nazario, permanent representative of South Sudan to the UN.

While there is hope of more concrete conflict resolution for Abyei, South Kordofan civilians continue to be attacked by the SAF in hopes of forcing them to flee to the South. De Souza says that what the documentary called a “politically- generated famine” is not merely just a famine. The violence cannot however be declared genocide until the United Nations declares it so. There are large examples of what can appear as ethnic cleansing; however this also cannot be claimed until the United Nations verifies it. According to the documentary film, Bashir stated, “There will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity…Islam [will be] the official religion and Arabic the official language.” The UN therefore must be pushed to do a fair assessment of the situation where both sides are offered official representation.

According to De Souza, the few volunteers have been serving continuously, including the religious sisters who have helped for over a year. De Souza urges any new religious male and female volunteers. If anyone is interested or knows of anyone interested, she urges them to email her at Sharon@doe.ke