Sudan Backgrounder

The Situation

The Sudanese government continues its long-standing policy of attacking civilians. In addition to the ongoing crisis in Darfur, forces under the command of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir have carried out attacks against civilians in the disputed Abyei territory, and the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

Throughout its offensives, the Sudanese government continues to perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity against its own civilians. In 2011, more than 500,000 Sudanese civilians were driven from their homes by government action and that number continues to grow in 2012. Indiscriminate aerial bombardments and ground attacks are preventing farmers from planting crops in South Kordofan and Blue Nile and denial of international humanitarian aid has set up a crisis that is nearing famine conditions.

Since the 1989 overthrow of the Sudanese government by a military coup led by current President Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese government has regularly deployed troops, tanks, and local militias against its own citizenry. During the second phase of the Sudanese Civil War, Sudanese government forces bombed civilians in the Nuba Mountains and forcibly cleared civilian areas to facilitate oil exploration. The government also empowered local militias to attack civilian supporters of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) across the country. The combination of combat tactics and conflict-induced famine led to the death of an estimated 2 million Sudanese during the 22-year long Civil War (1983-2005).


Azize at Yusuf Batil Refugee Camp in South Sudan

In 2003, the Government of Sudan responded to a rebellion in the Darfur region of Sudan and began a genocidal campaign against civilians killing over 300,000 and displacing over three million Darfuris. As the crisis in Darfur continues in its ninth year, attacks by the Sudanese government and its proxy militias continue, particularly in the inaccessible Jebel Marra area. Civilians remain at risk of attack by Sudan Air Force planes, soldiers of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and their allied Janjaweed militias, and other armed actors operating in Darfur. Over 2 million Darfuris remain displaced.

In January 2011, according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed between the SPLM and the Government of Sudan, southern Sudanese held a referendum in which they voted overwhelmingly for southern independence. South Sudan officially became a country in July 2011. However, several issues including border demarcation and an agreement over oil remain unresolved and threaten a return to war between the North and South.

Nearly 500,000 displaced by fighting in #Sudan. Most do not have access to humanitarian aid.

The status of the region of Abyei, on the border between Sudan and South Sudan, remains contested and was invaded by the SAF in May 2011 displacing 113,000 people. Two states that remained in the North but with rebels who had previously fought with the South, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, were then attacked by Sudanese forces in July and September. According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), SAF forces targeted civilians on the basis of their political identity, and indiscriminately killed civilians throughout the state. Nearly 500,000 have been displaced by fighting, the bulk of whom do not have access to humanitarian aid due to Sudanese government restrictions. Those attacks have continued, marked by indiscriminate aerial bombardments, ground attacks, and actions which the United Nations has said may amount to crimes against humanity.

What are we watching for?

The humanitarian situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile could grow increasingly dire as conflicts between the government of Sudan’s armed forces and rebel groups threaten food supplies. Violence along the border has impeded the delivery of aid and has severely hampered the ability of the Sudanese to grow and harvest life-sustaining foods. Further complicating the situation is the fact that the Sudanese government has imposed a ban on humanitarian aid groups in South Kordofan and Blue Nile fearing these groups will aid the rebels. International organizations and officials project that if aid inflows are not allowed in the country, over 500,000 people could be negatively impacted by near-famine conditions.

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Since 2003, an estimated 300,000 people have died as a result of the conflict in Darfur and as many as 2.7 million people have been displaced within Darfur, with several hundred thousand more fleeing into neighboring countries such as Chad, the Central African Republic and Egypt. In September 2004, President George W. Bush declared the crisis in Darfur “genocide” — the first time a sitting American president had made such a declaration regarding an ongoing conflict. Despite the world’s growing outcry, the violence continued in Darfur and the number of dead and displaced increased considerably.

The conflict in Darfur began in the spring of 2003 when two Darfuri rebel movements — the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) — launched attacks against government military installations as part of a campaign to fight against the historic political and economic marginalization of Darfur.

The Sudanese government, engaged in tense negotiations with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) to end a two decade long civil war between North and South Sudan, responded swiftly and viciously to extinguish the insurgency. Through coordinated military raids with government-armed militia (collectively known as the janjaweed), the Sudanese military specifically targeted ethnic groups from which the rebels received much of their support, systematically destroying the livelihoods of Darfuris by bombing and burning villages, looting economic resources, and murdering, raping and torturing non-combatant civilians.

In March 2009, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for two counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity. The following summer, the ICC added genocide to the charges against al-Bashir. The ICC has also issued arrest warrants for Ali Kushayb and Ahmad Haroun for a combined 92 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against civilians in Darfur. In March 2012, the ICC added Sudan’s current Minister of Defense Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein to the list issuing an arrest warrant for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

The United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force (UNAMID) in Darfur replaced an underfunded and underequipped African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur in January 2008. UNAMID to this day remains without the necessary resources to protect the 1.9 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) who live in large camps across Darfur. The government has increasingly obstructed UNAMID and humanitarian organizations by restricting access, often leaving the most vulnerable civilians cut off from outside aid. There are also an estimated 263,000 Darfuri refugees living across the Sudanese border in neighboring Chad. Overall, the UN estimates that more than 4.7 million people in Darfur (out of a total population of roughly 7.5 million) are still affected by the conflict.

Women living in IDP camps risk rape or harassment if they leave the camp to access water, collect firewood, or plant crops; however, due to the limited access of aid, they often do not have a choice. Gender based violence (GBV) has been used as a tool to oppress women throughout the crisis and those who target women do so with impunity. Due to cultural and religious taboos, GBV often goes unreported and perpetrators are rarely held accountable for their crimes.

What are we watching for?

Prolonged international peace talks resulted in a Doha Peace Agreement that left out the major rebel groups and failed to gain acceptance by a large part of the Darfuri population. Further progress will depend heavily on the ability and willingness of the Government of Sudan to establish an “enabling environment” for Darfuri participation.

Today, fighting between the rebel movements and the government continues and since 2010, the UN has reported over 200 attacks in Darfur. The Government of Sudan has manipulated ethnic tensions leading to inter-ethnic fighting between Arab tribes that has also added to instability in Darfur. Despite the presence of the UNAMID peacekeeping force, Darfuris remain vulnerable to attacks and human rights violations from both sides, including sexual violence which continues both outside and inside IDP camps across Darfur.

Despite this chaotic environment, the Sudanese government remains the most responsible for the violence in Darfur. President al-Bashir and others in his government created the anarchic conditions presiding in Darfur today through their violent counterinsurgency campaign targeting innocent men, women and children. Furthermore, the Sudanese government has obstructed the UNAMID peacekeeping force, refused to prosecute any individuals responsible for crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, and has intimidated and expelled numerous international humanitarian aid groups. These actions continue to leave many civilians in Darfur unprotected and dispossessed of their basic human rights.