For over 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 states. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (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 250,000 have fled to South Sudan and Ethiopia. The government of Sudan prohibits access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile and systematically obstructs aid from reaching vulnerable civilians.
The SAF has committed war crimes, including extrajudicial killings, 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 health facilities. The SPLM-N has also perpetrated war crimes, including indiscriminate attacks on civilian-populated areas, alleged recruitment of children and attacks on UN personnel.
Following several failed negotiations, during 2016 the African Union (AU) High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) for Sudan proposed a Roadmap agreement 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. On 8 August a number of rebel groups, including the SPLM-N, also signed the Roadmap. However, the parties failed to reach an agreement regarding a permanent cessation of hostilities in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur. On 31 December the government extended its unilateral ceasefire for one month.
The situation in Darfur 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 in Jebel Marra, North Darfur, between the government and the Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid, who remain outside the peace process, led to the displacement of over 129,000 civilians during 2016. A total of 2.6 million people are now displaced in Darfur.
On 31 October the UN announced that the Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minnawi and the Justice and Equality Movement had announced a six-month unilateral ceasefire. Despite the ceasefires declared by rebels and the government, on 1 January at least 10 people were killed in an attack on an internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp in Jebel Marra. Both sides have denied responsibility.
On 29 September Amnesty International reported on evidence that the SAF had repeatedly used chemical weapons against civilians in Darfur. The investigation concluded that approximately 200-250 people were killed as a result of at least 30 suspected chemical weapons attacks in the Jebel Marra region since January 2016. The Sudanese government has denied that it possesses or uses chemical weapons. The government also continues to prevent journalists or humanitarian workers access to Jebel Marra.
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. Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned repeated attacks on UNAMID. Since 2008 more than 70 UNAMID peacekeepers have been killed.
The government has a history of perpetrating atrocities in Darfur and during its 1983-2005 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 over five years.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) and AU have failed to ensure that the government and SPLM-N honor past agreements on the cessation of hostilities and delivery of humanitarian assistance. Indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas by both the SAF and SPLM-N demonstrate an unwillingness to distinguish between combatants and civilians, actions that amount to crimes against humanity.
Since its deployment in Darfur in 2008, UNAMID has been unable to provide adequate protection to civilians and has been systematically obstructed by the government of Sudan. Ongoing inter-communal violence and SAF operations contribute to the risk of further mass atrocity crimes. The alleged use of chemical weapons is a potential war crime. Attacks on UN peacekeepers also constitute war crimes, while restrictions on their freedom of movement contravenes the Status of Forces Agreement between the UN and Sudan.
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.
The UNSC has adopted 62 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.
In 2007 the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted three members of the current government, including President Omar al-Bashir, 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 Darfur. None of the indictees have been surrendered to the Court and the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC has criticized the UNSC for failing to meaningfully assist in their arrest.
On 29 June the UNSC adopted Resolution 2296, which extended UNAMID's mandate until 30 June 2017. The resolution emphasized that those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law (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 9 August the European Union, Germany, Norway, United Kingdom and United States issued a joint statement welcoming the signing of the Roadmap agreement by various rebel groups. On 17 August the UN Secretary-General expressed his disappointment regarding the failure to reach an agreement on a permanent cessation of hostilities, calling upon the parties to abide by the Roadmap and continue negotiations.
On 13 January the United States announced it would revoke some bilateral sanctions on Sudan, citing "positive actions" taken by the government, including pledges to uphold the cessation of hostilities in some conflict areas.
After more than 10 years and 62 resolutions it is time for the UNSC and other UN 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, SPLM-N and other parties must abide by the AUHIP Roadmap and cease all armed hostilities in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The UNSC and AU should ensure the government and SPLM-N facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance, as stipulated in the Roadmap, 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.
Last Updated: 15 January 2017