Access the Museum's press release on South Sudan's independence here.
Today, Sudan includes the 15 states that were formerly known as northern Sudan, notably including the capital area around Khartoum, the conflict-ridden western region of Darfur, and newly violent Southern Kordofan. Previously, Sudan also included a southern region, against which it waged war for decades. The north-south conflict ended through negotiations in 2005, and the Republic of South Sudan formally declared its independence on July 9, 2011.
The Museum’s concern for Sudan today stems from:
•The Sudanese government’s established capacity and willingness to resort to violence against civilians in order to pursue its agenda. This violence has included genocide and related crimes against humanity, as evidenced by actions the government has taken against entire ethnic groups in the western region of Darfur, the Nuba Mountains, and the South.
•On-going conflict, massive displacement, and human rights abuses in the Darfur region, disputed Abyei area, and Southern Kordofan.
•Uncertainty and instability generated by current political changes, specifically the independence of South Sudan, but also the marginalization of minority groups and opposition parties in the north.
•History of inter-group tensions and presence of armed forces associated with ethnic groups.
These patterns were evident in the north/south wars, and in Darfur. The war between the north and south resulted in the deaths of an estimated 2 million people and displaced 4 million others. The primary victims were the people from the Dinka, Nuer and Nuba ethnic groups. An on-going conflict in the western region of Darfur included a period of intensive, systematic targeting of the civilian populations from the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masaalit ethnic groups, resulting in the deaths of at least 200,000 people between 2003 and 2005 alone. In 2004, the Museum issued a genocide emergency in response to this violence.
Today, Sudan’s civilian population faces threats from continuing and potentially new violence. Conflict continues in the Darfur region, where over 2 million people--a third of the population--are displaced. The government has shown few signs of willingness to address the rights of southerners who reside in the north, northern groups who previously fought with the south (in the Nuba mountains and Southern Blue Nile), and the people of other marginalized areas, like the east, where an estimated 420,000 people are internally displaced. Additionally, it remains unclear if the government in Khartoum will pursue peaceful policies that respect the sovereignty of its new neighbor, South Sudan. All of these concerns exist on a political landscape altered by the independence of the South.
On one of our first days after arriving in Juba last fall, former US Envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios, photojournalist Lucian Perkins and myself sat down with Acuil Malith Banggol, a former political officer with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the rebel force in southern Sudan. He explained why southern Sudanese no longer wished to be part of Sudan, about how the Dinka, Nuer and other peoples of the south had been marginalized and persecuted by the authorities in Khartoum for three decades
Almost in passing, Banggol mentioned that his son, Ring Banggol, had actually been a slave for six or seven years.
Intrigued, we later tracked down Ring, now living in the South Sudan capital, and listened to his amazing story: As a young boy, growing up in Wau, Ring was kidnapped by a militia group and taken into captivity in northern Sudan. He was forced to work tending goats, under threat that his Achilles tendon would be cut if he attempted to escape. He received regular beatings from his masters before he managed to get away.
Today, Ring is a tall, strapping young man who loves to play basketball and wants to study economics at university. On Saturday, he will become a citizen of the new country of South Sudan. If all goes well–and peacefully–he will at least have a fighting chance of achieving his dream.
Ring’s story is one of three told in a short video created by Perkins during our visit to assess conditions on the eve of independence. You can watch the video below:
The three of us wanted to learn first-hand about what had happened–and what may happen–in a small part of the world that had experienced suffering on an epic scale over some 30 years of civil war. The estimated 2 million people who died and the 4 million who were displaced before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended Sudan’s civil war defy belief.
With the possible exception of the recent wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it may have been Africa’s bloodiest war in modern times. To put down the rebellion, the northern authorities employed indiscriminate aerial bombing of civilians and used allied militias to terrorize and enslave the population. In the case of the conflict in the Nuba Mountains, scholars believe they committed genocide.
But the numbers don’t truly convey the human cost of such a brutal conflict.
Hearing Ring’s story reminded us that what matters are the experiences of the individuals who have lived in the midst of this turmoil and suffering. Every one of the dozens of people we met during two weeks traveling about the south had a story: a family member or friend who had been killed in a massacre; a long trek to Kenya or Ethiopia to escape the violence; or, in the case of another individual we met, Sunday Achan, a hotel maid in Juba, a near-death experience at the hands of a terror group, the Lord’s Resistance Army.
It seemed to us that this entire country of some 8 million people had been seared by the conflict. Everyone has a story to tell. And while today the people of South Sudan are celebrating their first days as citizens of an independent country, the legacy of war and violence casts a long shadow. Many of those we met seemed careful not to be excessively optimistic about their coming freedom.
“I wish there’s going to be peace,” Ring told us. “That’s just my wish, but if there’s no peace, well, I’ve always lived in the war. This is what I’ve always expected. I was born in it. I lived through it. If there’s no peace…it’s still the same. I don’t know what peace is.”
The odds have always been steep for southerners. South Sudan’s independence was far from a certain outcome during decades of war. Perhaps the world’s newest country can once again defy the odds and establish the peace and development that citizens like Ring deserve.
–Michael Abramowitz, director, Committee on Conscience
Below are excerpts from a UN Mission in Sudan memo about the Sudanese Armed Forces’ attack on Abyei. The memo was leaked to the media and is available in full here.
“On the night of 21 May 2011, SAF attacked and took control of Abyei, amidst artillery shelling, armored tank firing, mortar shelling, and machine gun fire. There was heavy fighting, especially around UNMIS compound, presumably between the SAF and South Sudan Police Services (SSPS) and possibly armed Ngok youths.”
“On the morning of May 22, northern aligned armed PDF and Misseriya militia elements from Goli, Alal and surrounding Abyei areas moved into Abyei and according to information gathered, they began moving from tukul to tukul, and allegedly killed residents trapped therein, mostly Ngok Dinkas. An elderly woman who took refuge in the UN camp, in an interview, stated that her 37 year son old was murdered in her presence. She also said that she saw some disabled persons being killed. Another woman also sheltered at UNMIS claimed that she was raped.”
The report continues by detailing some of the aftermath:
“Abyei is virtually empty and deserted”
“A number of the Abyei residents were killed”
“Large numbers of armed Misseriya Militia entered Abyei”
“Many houses and tukuls have been razed.”
“Massive looting has taken place by the SAF and the Misseriya”
“On May 26, the SAF blew up the Banton Bridge on River Kiir, thus effectively cutting road linkage between Abyei and Agok.”
“The UNMIS Safe Haven, established as part of the strategy for the protection of civilians to provide protection for up to 1500 persons, was not activated and hence was not used by the residents of Abyei”
The memo also offers analysis of the violence and its context:
“The SAF attack and occupation of Abyei and the resultant displacement of over 30,000 Ngok Dinkas from Abyei is tantamount to ethnic cleansing…”
“The Abyei attack, from all indications is not a retaliatory and offensive action occasioned the attack on the SAF convoy by the SSPS on May 19. Rather, the attack and occupation of Abyei by SAF was part of a deliberate plan by the North conceived long before the Dokura incident as evidenced by the SAF troop build up in the area before the attack. The SSPS attack may only have precipitated the timing.”
In light of the on-going violence in the Sudanese state of Kordofan, below is some background information on the history of violence in this area.
The Nuba Mountains is an area about 30,000 square miles, situated in the southern part of the state of Kordofan, and home to Christians, Muslims, and traditional believers. The Nuba people were decimated when the Sudanese government conducted systematic assaults against them, a policy that reached a destructive peak in 1992-1993, but continued for years thereafter.
In 1995, Justice Africa published a book, Facing Genocide: The Nuba of Sudan that was the first systematic documentation of the assault. The authors argued that genocide properly described what was happening because “the army avoids military engagements with the guerrillas, and concentrates its efforts on attacking defenceless villages and kidnapping and killing unarmed civilians. It is a war against the people. It is genocide.”
And a 1998 report by Milton Burr for the U.S. Committee for Refugees, “Quantifying Genocide in Southern Sudan 1983-1993,” attempted to put numbers to devastation. Burr argued that the assault on the Nuba was “the single most important cataclysmic event of recent date,” noting how it occurred almost entirely out of sight from the entire world. Out of a population believed to be around 1 million at the time, Burr estimated that 100,000 Nuba died as a result of government attacks in 1992-1993 alone.
War in the Nuba Mountains began in 1985, but intensified significantly after the current government took power in 1989. As the main north-south front came closer to the area, the government began attacking villages regularly, decommissioned Nuba in the armed forces, and “disappeared” many Nuba leaders. Villages were emptied of their former inhabitants; their lands were confiscated for large-scale agriculture ventures or local designs. The government used a range of forces to carry out the assaults: Peoples Defense Forces (PDF), Missiriya Arab militias (Murahileen) and, eventually, the Khartoum government’s own Mujahideen (Holy Warriors). These forces intentionally targeted the local food supply chain, creating a stranglehold over traditional Nuba areas, forcing civilians to flee into the lowlands for survival or face starvation.
The next phase of the government’s attacks was marked by an increase in the scale and intensity of assaults against civilians. Beginning in 1992, jihad was declared and a massive offensive against the Nuba began. The issuance of a fatwa in 1993 declared that even Muslims among the Nuba were to be viewed as not “true Muslims,” thereby justifying attacks against them in addition to Christians and traditional believers. One person interviewed by Justice Africa described the attacks:
There was a big government offensive in April 1994. They came and burned villages and killed people. One woman was killed in the hills. She was called Keni Shahid. They burned more than 120 houses and took animals. They took one man who was cultivating. He is called Reme, we have no news from him since that day. The only information is from a boy, Abdullahi Murjan, who was arrested with 28 cows and taken to Talodi, who escaped. The boy said that life is very hard in the military camp and that Reme had been killed. (page 25)
The assaults against the Nuba continued for years at lower levels of intensity. View photos of the Nuba taken 1999–2004.
As the eve of South Sudan’s independence rapidly approaches, incidents of new violence have occurred along the north/south border and new information about violence in South Sudan has emerged.
On June 6th, fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) broke out in Kordofan state, around the capital, Kadugli. While the details as yet remain unclear, initial reports indicate that violence began on Sunday, June 5th at several locations, although the reports dispute how it began. Casualty estimates are difficult, given the on-going fighting, but UN officials on the ground have confirmed at least 6 are dead. The fighting escalated on June 6th when the SAF moved into the town center.
A report leaked to the New York Times indicated that the Sudanese government planned to move its forces to the 1956 north/south border and disarm any SPLA units beginning on June 1st. The areas impacted most by such moves would be the two northern states that border the south, Kordofan and Southern Blue Nile. Both states include populations who had previously fought with the SPLA during the war. While the northern wing of the SPLM has announced its intention to remain as an opposition party in the north, the southern leadership has denied that they retain any formal military presence in Kordofan and Southern Blue Nile.
As preivously noted, the SAF moved into the disputed border area of Abyei on May 21st. Updated information indicates that 100 people were killed and 100,000 displaced as a result of the SAF’s actions. The military was accompanied by the destruction of homes and widespread looting. A confidential United Nations report leaked to the Associated Press, dated May 29, 2011, warned that the SAF’s invasion of Abyei has the potential to lead to “ethnic cleansing” if the thousands of displaced residents are not permitted to return. The Sudanese government announced on June 6, 2011, that it would work to create conditions for the thousands of internally displaced persons to return to their homes in Abyei, but it neglected to outline a firm strategy to actualize he plan. This announcement came the same day that Sudan rejected the UN Security Council’s calls for military withdrawal from the Abyei region.
In southern Sudan, reports have emerged of an indiscriminate attack by SPLA forces against Nuer civilians on April 23 in Kaldak, a remote town in Jonglei state. According to civilians in the area, SPLA forces turned on civilians following a battle with a militia loyal to Maj. Gen. Gabriel Tanginye. The death toll may be as high as 254. Villagers also reported extensive looting following the fighting. An attempt by the UN to verify the reports was obstructed by the SPLA. Current estimates suggest that more than 1,500 people have died in violence in southern Sudan this year.
Violence in the south, combined with quickly deteriorating humanitarian access creates immense difficulties for aid workers to reach the most vulnerable populations. The SPLA further compounds the fragile situation: aid workers in the region have reported that the SPLA is stealing humanitarian vehicles and supplies or restricting access to remote areas for their own enrichment.
Abyei, the contested border region whose final status is not resolved, is once again the scene of violence that has the potential to derail the final negotiations between Sudan’s north and south before South Sudan declares its independence on July 9, 2011. At risk should this violence reignite the larger war are the lives of millions of civilians who have already survived decades of conflict and are eagerly awaiting their chance to build a new future.
Beginning on Friday, May 20, Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) bombed and then unilaterally moved into Abyei town, looting and burning. Almost the entire civilian population has fled. The SAF are refusing to leave until a new agreement between the north and south is signed that would govern Abyei’s status.
Tensions between the two sides had been escalating throughout this spring, even while the final status was being negotiated by northern and southern leaders with international mediators. Both sides built up their armed forces in the area and low level clashes often followed by civilian flight south of the town occurred at several points.
The pace of these confrontations accelerated in May: on May 1st, clashes between southern Sudanese police and SAF resulted in 14 deaths. On the 12th, SPLA forces allegedly ambushed SAF troops, killing 14. The situation was momentarily defused when both sides agreed to remove all unauthorized troops from the area by May 17th. This agreement was not carried out. On May 19, SPLA forces allegedly attacked SAF forces accompanied by a UN unit that was deploying to posts previously agreed upon with SPLA. Twenty-two SAF soldiers were killed and another 100 are missing. The SPLA denies it was responsible for these attacks.
South Sudan has suspended negotiations with the North and accused Omar al-Bashir’s government in Khartoum of arming rebel groups in an effort to weaken it before the country splits in July. This move follows recent incidents of violence in Abyei, Malakal and Jonglei state that have shaken the stability of the South.
Clashes have recently intensified between Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and a rebel group led by General George Athor, a rogue actor in the South and former chief of staff in Southern Sudan’s army. Media reports indicate that dozens may have died, including numerous civilians, during a clash between SPLA forces and Athor’s militia earlier last week in the state of Jonglei. The SPLA has declared a large part of Jonglei state a no-go area, hindering humanitarian and investigative efforts. On Saturday, March 12, heavy fighting between SPLA forces and another renegade militia led by Commander Olony broke out in Malakal, Upper Nile state’s capital. It remains unclear whether this attack was aligned with Athor’s forces.
Bashir’s National Congress Party has denied allegations that it supports Athor’s militia or any other rebel group.
The breakdown in negotiations leaves the crisis unresolved in the volatile border region of Abyei, where violence in the first week of March reached levels unseen since 2008. Militias associated with the Missiriya, semi-nomadic cattle-herders whose status as residents of Abyei has been debated, have attacked South Sudan police positions at Todac, Makar Abyior, and the villages of Todac, Tajalei, and Wungok. The violence left approximately 149 dead and displaced tens of thousands of civilians. On March 14, the UN complained that its peacekeepers have been consistently denied access to — and considerably restricted in their movements around — areas of conflict in Abyei.
On March 16, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect issued a statement on the situation in Abyei and expressed concerns that current tensions “could easily trigger further ethnic-based violence in Abyei.”
With only four months left until the South’s official independence, these incidents of violence impede the resolution of many post-referendum issues and raise substantial questions about Southern Sudan’s capacity to govern a new state peacefully and democratically.
For more information, see the Enough Project’s overview of militias in South Sudan.
On February 7, 2011, Sudanese authorities released the final results of the near-unanimous vote for southern independence from the North, and President Bashir reiterated his commitment to respect the South’s decision. The process was largely peaceful and well-organized, an important achievement given Sudan’s recent history of war, but its conduct also raised questions about the political challenges that now await Southern Sudan. Jort Hemmer, of the Conflict Research Unit in the Netherlands, observes:
In various areas in Southern Sudan, local chiefs, the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement], the police and plain clothed security officials were involved indentifying and mobilizing people who had not yet cast their vote, particularly towards the end of the week. Some centers were keeping separate lists with the names of these ‘no-shows’ to facilitate this search…. In sum, the referendum demonstrated a worrisome lack of political space in Southern Sudan…
Concerns about the South’s capacity to reform its institutions and improve governance and human rights were echoed by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which noted that southern opposition parties are already complaining of being excluded from the forthcoming constitutional review. While there are significant issues still to be negotiated with the North, the need to resolve underlying tensions between southerners themselves also remains paramount for the emerging nation. Last week, rebellious renegade soldiers led by General George Athor attacked two towns in the southern state of Jongei, reportedly killing over 200 people when civilians, including children, were chased into the river and either drowned or were shot. A senior SPLM official has accused the North of backing Athor financially and militarily, although Small Arms Survey has found no evidence to support similar, previous claims. A rogue actor in the South, Athor defected from the southern army – where he was once involved in a violent civilian disarmament campaign that left more than 1,500 dead – to run unsuccessfully for governor in Jonglei. He then launched a rebellion against the southern government in April and eventually signed a ceasefire agreement, now broken, four days before the referendum.
Post-referendum fighting also broke out in early February in the border town of Malakal between Joint Integrated Units of southern and northern forces, which are to be dissolved and returned home to their respective commands.
For an overview of some of the unresolved issues still at stake in the separation process, including the status of Abyei, view our latest situation update.
In recent weeks, just as international attention focused almost exclusively on Southern Sudan, Darfur saw a dramatic increase in attacks on civilians by rebels and the Sudanese government. HRW reports that the situation’s sharp deterioration recalls past patterns of violence that include aerial bombing by the Sudanese government and ethnically targeted violence. In North Darfur, a series of attacks beginning in mid-December in Shangil Tobayi and lately destroying eight villages in Tabit has caused tens of thousands to flee. On December 26, government forces in Land Cruisers and on camels and horses attacked the ethnic Zaghawa section of Shangil Tobayi. At the same time, rebels attacked ethnic Birgid communities, whose members are in the Sudanese army and are seen as pro-government.
The heightened level of violence follows the December dismissal from government of presidential adviser Minni Minawi, who subsequently moved to Juba, the capital of South Sudan. A Darfurian rebel leader, Minawi joined the government in Khartoum after being the only major rebel to sign a peace agreement in 2006. He has now once again taken up arms and his time in Juba raised concerns in the North about possible alliances between Darfur and the South.
This past weekend, referendum voting on the future of Southern Sudan came to a peaceful and orderly close. Although final results are not expected until mid-February, early returns suggest overwhelming support for independence.
Before the two nations could potentially – and officially — split in six months, many key issues remain unresolved, the most challenging of which may be determining the status of Abyei, where violence flared at the outset of the referendum. Future peace between North and South Sudan will likely hang on their ability to settle questions of citizenship and land rights in Abyei and a commitment from both to stop manipulating the border region’s ethnic diversity. A new report by the Rift Valley Institute stresses the importance of recognizing the root causes of violence in Abyei and the establishment of separate mechanisms to address the grievances of Abyei’s residents. “Abyei has so far proved to be the most difficult part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) to implement, more difficult even than the determination of the rest of the North-South boundary or the division of oil revenues,” the report explains.
Abyei has not been the only region of Sudan left behind in the intense preparation for Southern Sudan’s referendum. The CPA also prescribed opportunities for the people of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states in the North to express their voices in “popular consultations.” However, these ill-defined processes do not permit the possibility for self-determination, a dream especially for the people of Nuba Mountains, who suffered decades of famine, slavery, and forced relocation at the hands of the Northern government. The concern now is that the possibility of southern independence – and greater stranglehold by Khartoum in the North — may turn frustration into violence in the Nuba Mountains region.
In January, the UN released data that identified 2,321 violent deaths last year in Darfur, where the Sudanese government has been tightening its grip over the beleaguered population. In remarks to the UN Security Council, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concern and condemnation at “alarming reports that Sudanese Armed Forces have burned homes and blocked civilians’ access to UNAMID [United Nations/African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur] in Khor Abeche, and that the Government of Sudan violated the North/South ceasefire with repeated aerial bombardments into the Kiir River Valley – in addition to the all-too-frequent reports of aerial bombardment in Jebel Mara and the Government of Sudan’s ongoing refusal to grant UNAMID patrols access to affected populations…” In December, Tanzanian peacekeepers at Khor Abeche in southern Darfur even gave out their own rations to refugees – in defiance of UN rules – because food supplies had been blocked by Sudanese Armed Forces for nearly a week.
With great euphoria at this long-awaited moment, South Sudanese began voting on Sunday in a referendum on independence from the North. Over the next week, more than three million people are expected to go to the polls, and, so far, voting in the South has been peaceful and smooth. One man cycled for two days to cast his vote in Rumbek, the capital of Lakes state, where herders sometimes move long distances with their animals. “Some of those traveling from the cattle camps had arranged for relatives to look after their cattle before rushing back and swapping so that others could travel to vote,” reports the BBC.
But even as the referendum continues, outbreaks of violence have heightened tensions along the fragile border region. Just as the voting began, skirmishes in Abyei reportedly involving members of the nomadic Misseriya tribe killed more than 40 people. Already on edge, Abyei was meant to hold a separate referendum on its future status as a part of the North or South, but it was postponed indefinitely over unresolved questions of eligibility.
On the second day of the referendum, heavily armed Misseriya tribesmen reportedly attacked a convoy of southern Sudanese travelling south to vote in the referendum. Ten people were killed and 18 were injured, according to the southern Sudanese Minister for Internal Affairs, who said that the convoy of buses and trailers was forced to turn back. The attack occurred in Southern Kordofan, a northern state, and the Misseriya are aligned with the government in Khartoum.
As the Museum statement urged prior to the referendum, leaders must call for calm in order to help prevent further violence.
On January 5th, the Museum issued a press release urging leaders in Sudan’s North and South to call for calm in advance of South Sudan’s referendum.
On Sunday, January 9, 2011, southern Sudan will vote on a referendum for its independence from northern Sudan. A politically historic moment, the vote to partition Sudan could trigger violence, and the danger to civilians will remain following the referendum.
The vote marks the culmination of a peace agreement that ended a devastating 20-year civil war between the North and South, which resulted in the death of at least 2 million people and displaced 4 million others. With a history of group-targeted violence, Sudan has continued to display some of the warning signs of mass atrocities against civilians, including a demonstrated willingness to manipulate ethnic and economic tensions and employ brutal tactics. The referendum is also being held in the shadow of ongoing violence in Darfur.
“After decades of violence and protracted peace negotiations, this opportunity for southern Sudan raises new hopes for the region, as well as new risks,” said Mike Abramowitz, director of the Committee on Conscience, the Museum’s genocide prevention program. “Leaders in both northern and southern Sudan, having committed themselves to allowing the referendum to occur, should now abide by that promise by calling for calm and respecting the results of the vote.”
Until results are announced, a period of uncertainly will likely follow the vote, and, secession, if that is the result, will not officially occur for six months. During this time, sustained international engagement will be necessary to ensure that all parties in both the North and South refrain from violence and work as neighbors toward building stability and peace.
“It is essential for the international community, and particularly the United States, to maintain focus and vigilance not only in these immediate days surrounding the vote, but over the coming months,” Abramowitz continued.