Acts of Violence
The Sudanese government led by Omar al-Bashir and the National Islamist Front (NIF), which was transformed in 1998 to the National Congress Party (NCP), has governed over war in the south and west. The conflicts produced several peaks of violence against civilians: militia raids into Bahr al Ghazal, 1986-89; the Nuba Mountains jihad that began in 1992; systematic targeting in the late 1990s of entire civilian groups who lived in areas where oil was discovered; and genocide in Darfur 2003 – 2005.
Entire ethnic groups were targeted by the north, including the Dinka and Nuer in the south, and the Nuba of central Sudan. Fighting in 1991-92 between factions of the SPLA also caused significant civilian losses and displacement. In Darfur, the primary victims were the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit.
In both the south and west, the Sudanese government established a pattern of assaults against civilians, killing, torturing, raping and displacing millions. Assault tactics included:
• Use of mass starvation and mass forcible displacement as a weapon of destruction;
• Obstruction of humanitarian aid;
• Harassment of internally displaced persons;
• Bombing of hospitals, clinics, schools, and other civilian sites;
• Use of rape as a weapon against targeted groups;
• Employing a divide-to-destroy strategy of pitting ethnic groups against each other, with enormous loss of civilian life;
• Training and supporting ethnic militias who commit atrocities;
• Destroying indigenous cultures;
• Enslavement of women and children by government-support militias;
• Impeding and failing to fully implement peace agreements.
Individually, each action had devastating, often deadly consequences for its victims. Together, these actions threatened the destruction of entire groups of people.
Amongst the most intense campaigns against civilians who remain in the north today were the assaults against the Nuba in Kordofan and campaigns against the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit in Darfur.
The Nuba Mountains
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 defenseless 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.
Between 2003 – 2005, Sudanese government forces and their allied militias conducted a series of raids against Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit villages. During this period alone, at least 200,000 people died as a result of the conflict.
After Darfuri rebels attacked a military airbase, the government responded by arming and supporting local militias, known as Janjaweed, in a series of coordinated offensives against villages. The government’s goal was to quell any support for the rebels, and the Janjaweed had interests in securing new land and other resources for their own communities. The impact on targeted groups was devastating.
The attacks often began with government planes bombing villages, followed by combined Janjaweed and Sudanese Armed Forces attacks on the ground. Villagers were killed, tortured and raped during attacks, and thousands of villages were destroyed. View satellite imagery of the destruction. The greatest civilian tolls came during the forced flight that followed. Pushed into the desert without water or food supplies, many civilians perished due to malnutrition and disease. Watch eyewitness video of a human rights investigator who documented this situation. Additionally, in the early years of the conflict, the government obstructed the delivery of aid to these vulnerable groups. Millions of displaced civilians settled into enormous camps, many on the outskirts of major towns in Darfur. Over 200,000 fled across the border into Chad. View images of the refugees from 2004.
In 2005, Brian Steidle, an American with the African Union monitoring mission in Sudan who was one of the few outside witnesses to these attacks, described the pattern thus:
“We would see villages of up to 20,000 people had been burnt to the ground. Evidence of torture. Displaced people in the hundreds of thousands. We’d also conduct interviews with the women, the surviving women, who had been gang raped by the Janjaweed so that they would give birth to a lighter skinned child.” Watch a short film detailing more of what Brian Steidle witnessed.
The conflict in Darfur continues well beyond this intensive phase, with the core effects of the genocide unaddressed. Today, some one-third of the population, approximately 2 million people, is displaced, the political concerns of the affected populations are unaddressed, and fighting continues.