While international attention was focused on finding peace between northern and southern Sudan, in the early 2000s another conflict emerged in Sudan’s western region, Darfur.
SLA = Sudan Liberation Movement
JEM = Justice and Equality Movement
NCP = National Congress Party
SLA-MM = Sudan Liberation Army – Minni Minnawi
DPA = Darfur Peace Agreement
In February 2003, two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement, or SLA, and the Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM, launched a full scale rebellion against the Sudanese government. The rebellion was prompted by ongoing economic marginalization and insecurity. Those involved in the rebellion were predominantly from Muslim sedentary tribes of the region, including the Fur and the Zaghawa.
The Sudanese government responded by enlisting the help of some of the nomadic tribes in Darfur, including the Rizeigat and the Misseriya, to put down the rebellion. The government promised these tribes land in exchange for their military allegiance, subsequently turning the conflict into genocide by “Arabizing” the issues. With support from the Sudanese Government’s National Congress Party, or NCP, these groups formed militias known as the Janjaweed, and began wreaking havoc throughout Darfur, ultimately leading to the deaths of around 300,000 people and the displacement of almost 4 million.
Since the conflict began, the rebels in Darfur have splintered multiple times, leaving an unwieldy number of groups with varying needs, and an increasingly complicated road to peace. One such splintering, which resulted from a Fur-Zaghawa division within the SLA, ultimately led to the creation of the Sudan Liberation Army – Minni Minnawi, or SLA-MM. The SLA-MM was the only one of the Darfur rebel groups to sign the Darfur Peace Agreement, or DPA, in Abuja in 2006. While Minnawi’s decision to sign the DPA secured him a leadership position in Khartoum, he was later sidelined by the government and ostracized by his own people, thus accomplishing nothing for the people of Darfur.
The most recent Darfur peace process in Doha offers little hope. The Liberation and Justice Movement, a group of rebels cobbled together for Doha by international mediators, continues to negotiate peace with the government even as the most powerful of the rebel groups remain outside the process.
Read more in Enough 101: "The Doha Peace Process, December 2010-present."
In June 2011, following disputed state-level elections, violence erupted between government and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, forces in South Kordofan. The violence spread in September 2011 to Blue Nile, where the Government of Sudan removed the state’s popularly elected SPLM-N governor, Malik Agar.
Refugees reported that the Sudan Armed Forces, or SAF, targeted civilians they suspected to be linked to the SPLM-N, and in July 2011, satellite imagery captured by our Satellite Sentinel Project evidenced the existence of mass grave sites in South Kordofan.
The violence spread in September 2011 to Blue Nile, where the Government of Sudan removed the state’s popularly elected SPLM-N governor, Malik Agar.
Because the Sudanese government refuses to allow independent observers into South Kordofan and Blue Nile, precise civilian casualty figures are unavailable. The United Nations estimates that there are now more than 202,000 refugees from Blue Nile and South Kordofan in camps in South Sudan and Ethiopia and as of May 31, 2012 en estimated 300,000 people have been displaced or severely affected by the fighting in South Kordofan.
The assaults on civilian populations have largely occurred during the planting and harvest seasons, severely undermining available food stores in the two states. The Government of Sudan steadfastly refuses to allow international organizations to deliver desperately needed humanitarian or food aid to civilians in SPLM-N controlled areas. According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, 200,000-250,000 people in areas of southern Blue Nile and South Kordofan are currently experiencing crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity, one level short of famine.
These atrocities are nothing new. They are the latest iteration in a pattern of human rights violations that the Government of Sudan has committed against Sudanese civilians in South Sudan, South Kordofan, Blue Nile, the Abyei area, eastern Sudan, and Darfur since at least the early 1990s.
Read more in an OpEd by our Executive Director John C. Bradshaw: "Sudan Faces New Charges of War Crimes."
Sudan’s eastern region garners almost no attention from the international community, but a UN official described the three states in the East—Red Sea, Kassala, and Gedarif—as "a volcano waiting to erupt."
This region, which struggles with access to water and sanitation and routinely suffers from acute malnutrition and maternal mortality rates, is primarily inhabited by the non-Arab Beja and Rashaida ethnic groups.
In October 2011, hundreds of student protestors took to the streets in the city of Kassala, chanting "people are hungry" and "people want to overthrow the government."
An anti-government youth group, the Girifna Movement, reported that Sudanese authorities broke up student protests with extreme violence, using live ammunition and tear gas as well as running down eight students with a security car.
In December 2011, a UN source predicted, "that conflict on the scale now taking place in South Kordofan and Blue Nile could erupt in Kassala state within a few months." Both the Beja and Rashaida were never completely disarmed after a 2006 peace deal and remain heavily armed today.
Eastern Sudan is also the location of Sudan’s only port, a necessary component to Sudan’s oil infrastructure.
In June 2012, the Sudanese government expelled at least four humanitarian aid groups, including Save the Children and Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders), accusing them of subversive behavior.
Denial of humanitarian aid to impoverished communities is a hallmark of the Government of Sudan’s domestic policy. Sudan denies aid to its citizens to punish the international community for decisions it doesn’t like. While eastern Sudan is not home to full-blown war like Blue Nile and South Kordofan, or plagued by chronic violence and mass displacement like Darfur, these areas must be understood as suffering from the same set of grievances: longstanding neglect, disenfranchisement, and political exclusion of communities.
Read more on our blog: "In Sudan’s Forgotten East, Conflict is Likely to Erupt."
There is a movement for democratic transformation underway in Sudan. Led by student activists, most notable the Girifna movement in Khartoum, these Sudanese citizens are standing up to Bashir’s regime and calling for democracy.
Girifna literally means "we are fed up" in Arabic, but colloquially it is akin to 'we've had enough.'
Sudan held deeply flawed and fraudulent elections in 2010, with the ruling National Congress Party, or NCP, "winning" 73% of the National Assembly seats, and Bashir winning the presidency with 68% of the votes.
Follow the latest updates on the protests for democratic transformation in our blog series: "#SudanRevolts."
Help end the crisis in the Sudans: Take action now.