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Background: the Nuba Mountains of southern Kordofan

In light of on-going violence in the Sudanese state of Kordofan, below is some background 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.