July 19th, 2011 by Shannon Orcutt
Background of South Kordofan Crisis
Fighting in the border state of South Kordofan, which contains the Nuba Mountain region, began in the capital of Kadugli on June 5th when the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) demanded the disarmament of members of the Sudan People Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N). The SAF and allied militias rapidly escalated the violence conducting house to house raids, supporting widespread looting, imposing roadblocks, and continuing to conduct aerial bombardments which have had disastrous consequences for the people of South Kordofan. Violence has now spread to villages throughout the state forcing over 73,000 civilians to flee their homes, disrupting the crucial cultivation season, and creating a human rights and potential humanitarian disaster.
The Government of Sudan has cut off nearly all access and prevented humanitarian organizations and UN peacekeepers from providing desperately needed aid and security and gathering information of abuses being committed. Local humanitarian groups who continue to access the area say they can only access around 10 percent of some 250,000 people in need and estimate that over 1 million people could be affected if the situation is not addressed.
Ethnic Targeting and War Crimes
The SAF and allied militias have singled out Nuba civilians on the basis of their ethnic identity and political ties, going house to house targeting civilians accused of being affiliated or supporting the SPLA-North and subjecting them to arrest, torture, and extrajudicial killings. The UN has cited reliable secondary sources reporting the existence of mass graves, adding to recently revealed images by the Satellite Sentinel Project, corroborated by eyewitness accounts on the ground, that appear to be consistent with mass graves. The Sudanese Red Crescent Society has also reported burying 70 people in Kadugli. A preliminary report by the UN has indicated that landmines and unexploded ordinance have contaminated more than a third of Kadugli and have killed civilians throughout South Kordofan. The use of landmines also prevents humanitarian organizations from accessing many of the towns most critically affected by fighting.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, the Sudanese Armed Forces attacked Kadugli Catholic Church where over 200 civilians had fled to for safety. While in Juba, GI-NET/SDC spoke with recently displaced Nubian religious leaders who reported that the church has now been transformed into a military compound by the government. Further charges of targeting and burning of churches and indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas by imprecise Antonov aircraft (a war crime) underscore the urgent need for access for independent investigations.
On June 28th, the Government of Sudan and the SPLA-North signed a framework agreement after weeks of negotiation in Addis Ababa, however it fell short of a ceasefire and within days Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir denounced the agreement and “ordered the Sudanese Armed Forces to continue their operations in South Kordofan until they clean the state of rebels”…“and not to stop until South Kordofan is purged as Abyei was purged before.”
Need to Protect Civilians
The government has also targeted peacekeepers in South Kordofan and has abducted at least eight UN personnel and killed an independent contractor working with the mission. On July 9th, the mandate of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) expired, and the Sudanese government has objected to a continued peacekeeping presence in the North. As the drawdown of UNMIS forces begins, the peacekeepers who are still present are no longer able to use force to protect civilians nor able to provide much reporting due to travel restrictions. The absence of UN peacekeepers poses a serious threat to civilians in South Kordofan since they are no longer able to provide security for civilians or humanitarian organizations to enable them to deliver desperately needed aid.
The Role of the United States
While the United States has issued a number of statements condemning the recent attacks in South Kordofan, the Government of Sudan continues their campaign of targeting the Nuba people and expects the United States to continue to use rhetoric rather than action. On July 9th, Secretary Clinton actually commended the Sudanese government and stated that “by continuing on the path of peace, the Government of Sudan can redefine its relationship with the international community and secure a more prosperous future for its people.” Unfortunately, the Government of Sudan has abandoned the path of peace and instead continues to attack its own people in South Kordofan, Abyei, as well as Darfur; therefore, it is essential for U.S. action to reflect Khartoum’s offenses.
It is critical for the Obama Administration to impose serious consequences for the Government of Sudan’s atrocities against civilians and to:
- Immediately suspend progress toward normalization with Sudan, including the review of its status as a state sponsor of terror, as well as any steps towards review of debt relief or the lifting of sanctions;
- Immediately impose targeted U.S. sanctions on officials and militia leaders implicated in orchestrating violence in Abyei and South Kordofan;
- Support expanding and strengthening the existing UN sanctions regime to hold accountable individuals responsible for instigating violence in Abyei and South Kordofan;
- Urge the United Nations Security Council to refer the situation in Abyei and South Kordofan to the International Criminal Court to ensure accountability for atrocities committed against civilians; and
- Ensure there is a UN civilian protection force with a human rights monitoring mechanism with access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Timeline of attacks in South Kordofan
- June 5th– Fighting between SAF and SPLA-North begins in Kadugli and Um Durein in South Kordofan
- June 11th– Bombardments & artillery shelling reported in 11/19 localities in South Kordofan
- June 14th– Two jet fighters dropped 11 bombs in Kauda targeting an airfield near a UNMIS base
- June 17th– Heavy fighting reported in Heiban-Kauda-Um Dorein area. The SAF dropped two bombs within a kilometer of UNMIS headquarters in Kadugli, also reports of fighting and burning of houses
- June 19th– SAF dropped at least seven bombs about 500 metres from the UNMIS airstrip in Kauda
- June 22nd– 5 civilians were killed in aerial attack on Kauda. 6 UNMIS staff were arrested at Kadugli airport
- June 25th– Bombing in Talodi was reported. An UNMIS staff member was arrested by SAF in Kadugli
- June 26th– A train of Southern returnees was attacked by militia between Muglad and Meiram
- June 27th– Aerial bombardments reported in Kauda and Kadugli
- June 28th– Sporadic gunfire in Talodi and aerial bombardments in Umm Durein were reported
- June 30th– Aerial bombardments reported north of Julud
- June 30th-July 5th– Aerial bombardments reported south of Kadugli
- Early July– Sporadic gunfire reported near Kurungu and Talodi
- July 6th– Sporadic gunfire in addition to bombing to the northwest and west of Kadugli
- July 6th-9th– Kurchi was reportedly subjected to bombing by SAF forces
- July 7th– Heavy aerial bombardment reported near Delami which resulted in many civilian casualties and large displacement
- July 8th– Aerial bombardments 15km south of Delami and 15km west of Kadugli
- July 8th-10th– Aerial bombardments reported 10 km southwest of Dilling
- July 11th– Heavy bombing and gunfire reported around Kadugli town
- July 12th– Two UNMIS national staff members were detained inside Kadugli town.
- July 12th -13th– Reports of fighting in Salara and Al Tays
- July 16th– Reportedly aerial bombardment 10km west of Heiban town
* There have likely been many more attacks but due to widespread access restrictions reporting has been severely limited.