BACKGROUND: For nearly five years the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and armed rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) have been engaged in hostilities in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, directly threatening vulnerable civilians. The government of Sudan continues to prohibit access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile and is systematically preventing aid from reaching populations at risk of starvation. According to OCHA, since June 2011 the conflict has resulted in over 1.2 million people "internally displaced or severely affected and in need of humanitarian assistance," while more than 246,500 have fled to South Sudan and Ethiopia.
Following several failed negotiations, the African Union (AU) High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) for Sudan proposed a Roadmap Agreement which establishes a framework to halt the conflicts in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. On 23 March the Chair of the AU Commission welcomed the signing of the agreement by the Sudanese government and called on opposition groups to endorse the Roadmap by 28 March, but the main opposition groups have announced they will not sign.
There has been a reported escalation in fighting with ground offensives and aerial bombardments across South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The SPLM-N accused the government of repeatedly bombing Wagari, Blue Nile, on 28 March. Heavy fighting was reported near Kauda, South Kordofan, on 30 March as the SAF launched an offensive to seize rebel-held areas. Indiscriminate aerial bombardments were reported during April around Heiban and Um Dorein, resulting in civilian casualties and the displacement of approximately 20,000 people.
Sudan has consistently failed to honor AU-brokered agreements and UNSC resolutions calling for a cessation of hostilities. This includes the failure to end aerial bombardments, disarm pro-government militias and allow humanitarian access. The SAF has committed war crimes, including extrajudicial killing, forced displacement and widespread sexual violence, against civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. It has also engaged in "scorched earth" tactics, systematically targeting food sources and deliberately destroying civilian infrastructure, including at least 26 health facilities since 2011. The SPLM-N has also perpetrated war crimes, including indiscriminate attacks on civilian-populated areas, alleged recruitment of children and attacks on UN personnel.
The situation in Darfur also continues to deteriorate, with civilians facing ongoing inter-communal violence, as well as attacks by the SAF and Rapid Support Forces, a pro-government militia with aerial and ground support from the SAF. Heavy clashes between the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid in Jebel Marra, North Darfur, since mid-January has led to the displacement of over 129,000 civilians. The government continues to prevent humanitarian access from reaching many areas around Jebel Marra. Previous fighting between the SAF and rebel groups contributed to the displacement of more than 233,000 people during 2015. A total of 2.6 million people are now displaced in Darfur.
The government has systematically obstructed the AU-UN hybrid peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID), tasked with a civilian protection mandate, from carrying out human rights monitoring. The UN Secretary-General has condemned repeated attacks on UNAMID, including the recent killing of two peacekeepers, and called upon the government to respect the Status of Forces Agreement.
ANALYSIS: The government has a history of perpetrating atrocities in Darfur and during its civil war with the south. It has consistently defied external pressure to halt mass atrocity crimes. Such crimes are currently being committed in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where patterns of violence targeting civilians for their perceived support of the SPLM-N have been witnessed for almost five years.
The UNSC and AU have failed to push the government and SPLM-N to honor past agreements on the cessation of hostilities and delivery of humanitarian assistance. Indiscriminate bombings of rebel-held areas by the SAF demonstrate an unwillingness to distinguish between combatants and civilians, actions that may amount to crimes against humanity. Populations are at heightened risk as a result of ongoing fighting and the lack of humanitarian access.
Despite the presence of UNAMID, civilians have not been afforded adequate protection in Darfur. Ongoing inter-communal violence and SAF operations contribute to the risk of further mass atrocity crimes. Attacks on UN peacekeepers constitute war crimes, while restrictions on their freedom of movement contravenes the Status of Forces Agreement between the UN and the government.
Not only is the government of Sudan manifestly failing to uphold its Responsibility to Protect, it is directly responsible for perpetrating mass atrocity crimes in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: The UNSC has adopted 61 resolutions on Sudan since 2004, most of which have not been fully implemented. The response of the international community to mass atrocities in South Kordofan and Blue Nile has been grossly inadequate. [See also, GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States.]
Members of the current government, including President Omar al-Bashir, the Defence Minister, Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein, and the current governor of North Kordofan, Ahmad Haroun, were indicted by the ICC in 2007 for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. President Bashir was also indicted in 2010 for perpetrating genocide in Darfur. The ICC issued an additional arrest warrant during September 2014 against rebel leader Abdallah Banda for war crimes resulting from an attack on AU peacekeepers during 2007 in northern Darfur. None of the indictees have been surrendered to the Court. On 15 December 2015 the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC criticized the UNSC for failing to meaningfully assist in the arrest of indicted suspects.
On 29 June 2015 the UNSC unanimously adopted Resolution 2228, which extended UNAMID's mandate until 30 June 2016. The resolution emphasized that those responsible for violations of IHL and abuses of human rights "must be held accountable and that the Government of Sudan bears the primary responsibility to protect civilians within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, including protection from crimes against humanity and war crimes." On 10 February the UNSC extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts until 12 March 2017.
On 3 March the Chairperson of the AU Commission and the UN Secretary-General issued a joint statement expressing deep concern about the escalating violence in Jebel Marra and called upon the Sudanese government to "fully cooperate with UNAMID to facilitate its freedom of movement, as well as that of the humanitarian actors, in their continued efforts to protect and provide assistance to the civilian population."
On 10 March the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the government to "take action to comply with its responsibility to protect civilians from violence, and to hold accountable those who violate international humanitarian and human rights law."
On 28 March the UN Secretary-General welcomed the government's endorsement of the AUHIP Roadmap and called for rebel groups to sign the agreement. On 8 April Norway, United Kingdom and United States issued a joint statement welcoming the Roadmap and encouraging other Sudanese parties to endorse it. The statement also expressed deep concern about violence in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
NECESSARY ACTION: After more than 10 years and 61 resolutions it is time for the UNSC and relevant member states to review their entire approach to endemic conflict and ongoing atrocities in Sudan. The UNSC should immediately expand the arms embargo on Darfur to include South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
The government must abide by the AUHIP Roadmap and other parties, including the SPLM-N, should endorse the agreement. The UNSC and AU must ensure the government and SPLM-N facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance, as stipulated in the 2011 Framework Agreement and 2012 cooperation agreements. The UNSC should mandate the establishment of an independent international commission of inquiry for South Kordofan and Blue Nile and actively support efforts to bring ICC indictees to justice.
States with major investments in Sudan, including China, Qatar, Iran and Saudi Arabia, should press the government to fulfill its commitments. The UNSC should ensure that violators of the arms embargo are held to account.
The government and SPLM-N, in accordance with UNSC Resolution 2046, must cease armed hostilities and address the underlying causes of the conflict. The government must stop obstructing UNAMID and allow them to uphold their mandate, including investigating gross human rights violations. Mediation efforts should be facilitated between the government and armed groups operating in Darfur.
Last Updated: 15 May 2016