BACKGROUND: Since June 2011 the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have conducted a counterinsurgency campaign in South Kordofan against the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), a rebel group that fought alongside forces associated with the government of South Sudan during the 1983-2005 civil war. These forces have also been fighting in neighboring Blue Nile since the conflict expanded during September 2011.
The SAF have conducted indiscriminate aerial bombardments of populated areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, including with cluster munitions. The SAF and their allied paramilitaries, the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), have committed war crimes, including extra-judicial killing, forced displacement and sexual violence against civilians. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also documented the SAF's use of scorched earth tactics, including the systematic targeting of food sources and deliberate destruction of civilian structures.
The SPLM-N has also perpetrated war crimes, including the alleged forced recruitment of youths in South Sudanese refugee camps. The group has shelled civilian areas of Kadugli, South Kordofan, in direct violation of international humanitarian law (IHL).
The conflict has led to the internal displacement of over 1 million civilians while more than 230,000 have fled to South Sudan and Ethiopia. The government continues to block UN agencies, international humanitarian organizations, independent monitors and the media from access to rebel-held areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Heavy flooding in South Kordofan and Blue Nile led the SPLM-N to announce a month-long ceasefire starting on 31 August. However, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported civilian casualties resulting from SAF bombings and from fighting between the SAF and SPLM-N throughout September. Sudan has consistently failed to honor African Union (AU)-brokered agreements and UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions calling for a cessation of hostilities.
These conflicts are partly connected to border tensions between Sudan and South Sudan. On 27 September 2012, under the auspices of the AU High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) on Sudan, both governments signed cooperation agreements addressing contentious issues, including oil transit fees, border demarcation and demilitarization. Despite security agreements signed in March, tensions escalated during June when the government of Sudan accused South Sudan's military of providing ongoing support to rebel groups operating within its territory, including the SPLM-N. Sudan and South Sudan have since remilitarized their shared border area.
The AU and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development launched the Ad Hoc Investigative Mechanism on 22 July to examine allegations of both countries supporting rebels operating in the other's territory. The presidents of Sudan and South Sudan held a summit on 3 September in which they agreed to implement the 27 September 2012 cooperation agreements and resolve the status of the disputed Abyei region.
However, the failure of the two governments to reach a final agreement on Abyei, including during another presidential summit on 22 October, led the Ngok Dinka community to hold a referendum on 27 October. The Ngok Dinka voted overwhelmingly to join South Sudan, increasing tensions with the heavily-armed Misseriya, a pro-Sudanese pastoralist community who conduct an annual migration through Abyei. Neither the government of Sudan nor South Sudan endorsed the unilateral referendum.
The security situation in Darfur also remains volatile as a result of inter-communal and state-sponsored violence, which has displaced over 300,000 people so far this year. Violence between ethnic Maalia and Rizeigat in late August resulted in over 190 fatalities. The government has been restricting the movement of the UN peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID), limiting its ability to respond to crises and uphold its civilian protection mandate. Four UNAMID peacekeepers were killed on 11 and 13 October in North Darfur.
Meanwhile, anti-government protests that started in Wad Madani on 23 September over the removal of fuel subsidies quickly spread to other cities, including Khartoum. Over 170 protesters were killed as the government used deadly force to suppress dissent.
ANALYSIS: The government of Sudan 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 more than two years.
Indiscriminate bombings of rebel-held areas demonstrate an unwillingness to distinguish between combatants and civilians, actions which violate international humanitarian law and may amount to crimes against humanity. Both the government and the SPLM-N have continued attacks against civilian areas despite negotiations.
The UNSC and AU have failed to push the government of Sudan and the SPLM-N to uphold agreements to cease hostilities and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Recent developments have undermined formal diplomatic progress between Sudan and South Sudan, particularly regarding border demilitarization. The failure to resolve the final status of Abyei endangers the lives of civilians in the area. Heightened tensions between the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya communities as well as between Sudan and South Sudan over the October referendum have increased the risk of a recurrence of significant violence similar to that witnessed in Abyei during May 2011.
Despite the presence of UNAMID, the security situation in Darfur continues to deteriorate. Recent inter-communal violence and the expanded operations of Darfuri rebel groups into North Kordofan and Abyei contributes to the risk of further mass atrocity crimes.
Not only is the government of Sudan manifestly failing to uphold its Responsibility to Protect, it is responsible for perpetrating mass atrocity crimes in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur. The extreme and violent response to recent protests increases the general risk to civilians throughout the country.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: Members of the current government, including President Omar al-Bashir, the Defence Minister, Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein, and the current governor of South Kordofan, Ahmad Haroun, were indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. President Bashir was also indicted in 2010 for perpetrating genocide in Darfur. [For responses prior to August 2013, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States.]
Acting on behalf of the AUHIP, former South African President Thabo Mbeki has facilitated regular talks between the governments of Sudan and South Sudan since July 2011. The UNSC has supported the AU's efforts, including through Resolution 2046, which called upon the parties to implement all provisions of an April 2012 "Roadmap" for Sudan and South Sudan. Mbeki has also brokered agreements between the government of Sudan and the SPLM-N.
On 23 August the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement calling upon Sudan and South Sudan to fully implement the 27 September 2012 cooperation agreements. It also called upon the government of Sudan and the SPLM-N to engage in direct talks, end attacks against civilians and allow unhindered humanitarian access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Following a 23 September meeting, the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) extended the AUHIP's mandate until December 2014. The AU PSC issued a communiqué on 26 October, calling upon the Ngok Dinka community to refrain from holding an unofficial referendum in Abyei. The AU Commission also issued a communiqué criticizing the unilateral referendum on 28 October.
The UNSC issued a Press Statement on 11 October, calling upon the SAF and the SPLM-N to allow safe passage for humanitarian organizations conducting a polio vaccination campaign.
NECESSARY ACTION: The government of Sudan and SPLM-N must cease hostilities and address the underlying causes of the conflict. The UNSC should expand the arms embargo on Darfur to include South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
The UNSC and AU must ensure that the 2011 Framework Agreement and 2012 cooperation agreements are rigorously implemented. States with major investments in Sudan, including China, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, should press the government to fulfill its commitments.
Crimes against humanity and war crimes perpetrated in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur must be thoroughly investigated by a credible independent body. The UNSC should mandate the establishment of an international commission of inquiry for South Kordofan and Blue Nile. All perpetrators, regardless of position or affiliation, must be held accountable.
Sudan and South Sudan must continue to negotiate outstanding post-secession issues and resolve the status of Abyei. Both governments should end support for armed groups operating in the other's territory. During the volatile migration season the UN peacekeeping mission stationed in Abyei (UNISFA) should continue to implement its conflict prevention and mediation strategy and increase the number of temporary operating bases in the region.
Last Updated: 15 November 2013