The international policy responses to the north–south war (1985–2005) varied greatly over the twenty years of the conflict, due to factors like the Cold War, multiple conflicts and regime changes in neighboring countries, and other shifting geopolitical and economic interests. The governments of neighboring Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt, Libya, Chad, Uganda, and Kenya all played significant roles. Key players among the broader international community included the United States, United Kingdom, and China. Sudan's support for Iraq during the first Gulf War and various radical Islamist movements (including hosting Osama Bin Laden from 1992–96) resulted in increased isolation from western countries. In 1993, the United States placed Sudan on its list of state sponsors of terrorism and imposed sanctions in 1997.
From 1989–2005, humanitarian assistance was provided through Operation Lifeline Sudan, which was set up following a devastating famine in Southern Sudan—the result of drought and the civil war—which killed an estimated 250,000 people. The consortium included three UN agencies, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and 40 non-governmental organizations. Although it saved countless lives, the system was manipulated by both sides in the war, which limited access to suffering displaced populations and siphoned off aid.
A peace process for southern Sudan, sponsored by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development and mediated by Kenyan General Lazaro Sumbeiywo, gained momentum with the signing of a framework for peace in July 2002 by the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). The United States, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom increased their engagement in the peace process after 2001.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed by the government and the SPLM on January 9, 2005. It ended the two-decade war and provided the framework within which the South eventually voted for independence, creating the new country of South Sudan on July 9, 2011. Following the signing of the CPA, the UN Security Council authorized the establishment of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) for a period of seven years. Deployed across Sudan, the 10,000-strong peacekeeping force was unable to prevent a recurrence of fighting between the government army and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in oil-rich Abyei on the north-south border or in Kordofan. Later that year, UNMIS was replaced by a new peacekeeping force, the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), which continues to monitor the disputed border area.
The fates of Sudan and South Sudan remain inextricably linked. They share not only a history, but also significant cross-border interests, including trade, migration, and resource development, especially with regard to the oil-rich border areas. Because of the long history of violence and fears of ongoing interference, southerners greatly distrust their northern neighbors, and the two countries have yet to find a way to respect each other’s sovereignty and peacefully negotiate their relations. There are tensions over the disputed region of Abyei, which has large oil reserves, and which threaten the economic well-being and the security of both countries.
In the Nuba mountains of South Kordofan, a humanitarian crisis in the border areas between Sudan and South Sudan in the context of a civil war between the government of Sudan and rebels from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement–North, has impacted large swaths of the population. By mid-2013, hundreds of thousands of civilians had fled the fighting as the Sudanese air force indiscriminately bombed civilian targets, and humanitarian groups reported on the dangers of widespread famine because the government of Sudan had blocked aid from reaching people in the mountains.
With mounting pressure from public advocacy groups a wide array of measures was deployed in response to violence in Darfur, sparking the beginning of an anti-genocide movement across the United States. Journalists like Nicholas Kristof played a central role in bringing the story of violence in Darfur to the general public early in 2004. Bolstered by public interest, editors kept reporters on the scene in Darfur and their stories on the pages of major newspapers. Another important early alarm was sounded by Amnesty International, which published one of the first full-length reports on Darfur in February 2004. Over the next several months attention was focused on the growing crisis in the region. On July 22, both houses of the US Congress passed resolutions condemning the atrocities in Darfur as genocide; on July 26 the US Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a "genocide emergency" warning; and on September 9, US Secretary of State Colin Powell voiced the Bush Administration’s opinion that "genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility—and genocide may still be occurring." While the UN, the African Union (AU), and the European Union disagreed that genocide had occurred, they all accused the Sudanese government and its allied militias of committing crimes against humanity.
Most of the deaths in Darfur resulted from malnutrition and exposure to the elements after civilians were forcibly displaced from their homes and villages into the harsh desert environment. A massive aid effort that began in 2003 saved countless lives and stemmed the death toll. As the conflict continued, however, humanitarian aid workers themselves increasingly became targets of violence.
As part of a 2004 agreement between the Sudanese government and the Darfurian rebels, the AU sent in soldiers mandated to protect unarmed ceasefire monitors. The ceasefire was not honored, and when civilians came under attack the AU soldiers often were not present or provided limited protection. On December 31, 2007, after protracted negotiations with the Sudanese government, the AU and the United Nations formed a joint force—the African Union–United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID)—with a stronger mandate to protect civilians. Unfortunately, the presence of UNAMID has been inadequate to change the situation on the ground.
On March 31, 2005, the UN Security Council referred the case of Darfur, Sudan, to the International Criminal Court (ICC). On March 4, 2009, the ICC announced its historic decision to issue an arrest warrant charging Sudanese President Bashir with five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes for his leadership role in orchestrating the conflict in Darfur. The next day, in retaliation, the Sudanese government expelled some 13 international humanitarian aid groups from Darfur and disbanded several national groups, with direct disregard for the needs of the displaced populations they were serving. Despite his indictment, President Bashir remains in office and travels abroad with impunity, as do other Sudanese leaders charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
There have been various attempts to negotiate peace among the parties. Since 2009, former South African President Thabo Mbeki has led an AU effort to broker peace in all areas of Sudan. In 2011, the Government of Sudan and the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM), an umbrella organization of various rebel factions, signed the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur. The agreement—which addressed a range of issues from power-sharing, the administrative status of Darfur, the return of displaced persons, justice and reconciliation, and security arrangements—was rejected by some of the rebel movements, leading to continued conflict in parts of the region. After military gains in 2016, the Sudanese government declared a unilateral ceasefire and attempted to pursue a peace agreement with two of the three main armed groups in Darfur. Despite these various efforts, peace remains elusive in Darfur and the "Two Areas" region of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.