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Peace, Justice, Humanitarian Aid

International response to the Second North-South War

The international policy responses to the second 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. Drought and the civil war caused the famine, which killed an estimated 250,000 people. The operation involved three United Nations (UN) agencies 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 was sponsored by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development and mediated by Kenyan General Lazaro Sumbeiywo. It 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 conflict. Fighting began again between the government army and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in oil-rich Abyei on the border between Sudan and South Sudan and 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.

Sudan and South Sudan remain closely 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.The two countries have yet to find a way to respect each other’s governments and peacefully negotiate their relations. There are tensions over the disputed region of Abyei 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 has impacted large parts of the population. By mid-2013, hundreds of thousands of civilians had fled the fighting as the Sudanese air force indiscriminately bombed civilian targets. Humanitarian groups warned of the dangers of widespread famine because the government of Sudan had blocked aid from reaching people in the mountains.

International response to Genocide in Darfur

With mounting pressure from public advocacy groups around the world, a wide array of measures were taken 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, foreign 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. 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 millions of civilians were forcibly displaced from their homes and villages into the harsh desert environment. A massive aid effort that began in 2003 saved many lives. 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 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 lengthy negotiations with the Sudanese government, the AU and the United Nations formed a joint force—the African Union–United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID)—to protect civilians. Unfortunately, the presence of UNAMID was not enough to change the situation on the ground. UNAMID’s mandate ended in December 2020.

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. This was the first time a sitting head-of-state had ever been charged with these crimes. 

The next day, in retaliation, the Sudanese government expelled 13 international humanitarian aid groups from Darfur and disbanded several national groups, disregarding the needs of the displaced populations they were serving. 

In 2010, the ICC added three counts of genocide to his indictment. Despite his indictment, President Bashir remained in office for several years, during which time he traveled abroad without any consequences or being arrested. In 2019, a military coup in Sudan removed him from power. The ICC has also charged other Sudanese leaders 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 addressed a range of issues from power-sharing, the administrative status of Darfur, the return of displaced persons, justice and reconciliation, and security arrangements. It 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, there is no peace in Darfur.