One Year Later, Sudan Continues to Target Civilians in South Kordofan

Posted by Annette LaRocco and Jenn Christian

While many Sudan observers are looking ahead to South Sudan’s first birthday in July, there is another, less auspicious, anniversary to commemorate. Today, June 5, marks one year since the beginning of hostilities in South Kordofan state. The Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, have been engaged in combat over the last year; however, a hallmark of the violence has been the SAF’s relentless targeting of civilians, use of indiscriminate bombing, and continued denial of humanitarian aid to devastated and food insecure communities. 

Throughout the war in South Kordofan, the Sudanese government has targeted civilians, whether by conducting house-to-house raids in towns or by terrorizing rural communities with the threat of Antonov bombers. Early in the conflict, the Satellite Sentinel Project documented evidence of mass graves in Kadugli as well as the abduction and extra-judicial killings of civilians. Many have argued the Sudanese government’s behavior amounts to ethnic cleansing.

A year on, civilian suffering has not abated. The SAF continues its notorious policy of indiscriminate bombing of the population. Many civilians have taken refuge from the bombs in the caves of the Nuba Mountains. Despite these precautions, injuries and deaths persist and medical facilities are severely lacking. Meanwhile, the SAF’s continued aerial bombardments have prevented most people from undertaking their usual patterns of subsistence agriculture, creating high levels of food insecurity, particularly among children and the elderly. The combination of the bombs and the hunger has caused tens of thousands of Sudanese to flee South Kordofan across the border to the Yida refugee camp in neighboring South Sudan. 

In what appears to be a concerted effort to target civilian populations, the government of Sudan remains intransigent about allowing food and medical aid into South Kordofan. Despite several diplomatic proposals the Sudanese government continues to deny humanitarian access, leaving hundreds of thousands of civilians vulnerable, cut off from supplies, and increasingly desperate.

In an attempt to bring to light the suffering of civilian populations in South Kordofan, as well as the Sudanese state of Blue Nile, where similar violence broke out in September of 2011, the Enough Project recently filed a petition before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, or the African Commission, against the government of Sudan. The petition alleges that Khartoum’s indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilians populations in the two states, its ground attacks against those populations, and its denial of international humanitarian aid to civilians within SPLM-N controlled areas violate, among other things, the rights to life and property afforded all Sudanese citizens under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Enough Project encourages the African Commission to, among other things, immediately take “provisional measures” to avoid irreparable harm be caused to the victims of Khartoum’s attacks against civilian populations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Further, Enough reiterates its request that the 11 U.N. Special Rapporteurs, the Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Sudan, and the U.N. Working Group on People of African Descent, all of whom were copied on Enough’s communication to the African Commission, take appropriate actions within their respective competencies, including forming a working group to collectively assess the situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

For the civilians of South Kordofan, and their fellow Sudanese in Blue Nile, time is quite literally running out. Those who have not fled to refugee camps in South Sudan now face months of hunger while a combination of rains and government bombs keep them hiding in caves throughout the Nuba Mountains, unable to plant crops or scavenge for food. Last month, the world’s leaders acknowledged the suffering of the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile in a United Nations Security Council resolution. Resolution 2046, which, among the provisions, strongly urges the government of Sudan to agree to a proposal by the U.N., the African Union, and the League of Arab States that would pave the way for international humanitarian aid to flow to populations throughout South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Refusal to implement this and other aspects of Resolution 2046 may result in the U.N. Security Council imposing sanctions on the offending party. To date, Khartoum has steadfastly refused to adhere to this aspect of the resolution.

The international community should today, one year since the government of Sudan commenced its campaign of terror and destruction against the Sudanese citizens of South Kordofan state, reflect on what it can do immediately to ease the suffering of and bring justice to those civilians affected by the tragic events of the past year. The Enough Project’s petition to the African Commission offers one mechanism through which the government of Sudan’s grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law may be addressed. As well, Resolution 2046, and the government of Sudan’s refusal to adhere to some of its requirements, further provides the international community with an avenue of recourse by which Khartoum may be held accountable for the crimes it has committed against its own people over the past year. The international community should not allow these two opportunities for redress and accountability to slip by.