BACKGROUND: Almost three years since the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2046, calling for a negotiated settlement to the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, the government and armed rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) continue to engage in hostilities that directly threaten civilians. The government has prohibited access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile and is systematically preventing aid from reaching populations at risk of starvation.
Following the end of the May through November rainy season, there has been an increase in indiscriminate aerial bombardments and renewed ground offensives in both South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Since 19 December heavy fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and SPLM-N has been reported near the strategic town of Daloka, South Kordofan. On 13 January the SAF claimed to have recaptured Alqineziah and Angarto, both in South Kordofan, from the SPLM-N following a week-long offensive. The SAF also deliberately targeted and destroyed one of the few remaining Médecins Sans Frontières hospitals in South Kordofan in a bombing raid on 20 January. Major clashes have also taken place near Bok, Yabous and Shali in Blue Nile. Three aid workers were killed after unidentified militants targeted their convoy in Kurmuk on 8 February.
Since June 2011 the SAF has conducted a counterinsurgency campaign in South Kordofan against the 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 ongoing conflict has led to the internal displacement of over 1.2 million civilians, while more than 246,500 have fled to South Sudan and Ethiopia. Escaping the escalation in aerial bombings, over 3,000 refugees from South Kordofan and Blue Nile have arrived in Yida camp, South Sudan, since 23 December 2014. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, approximately 240,000 people in Blue Nile require urgent humanitarian assistance.
The SAF has committed war crimes, including extrajudicial killing, forced displacement and widespread sexual violence against civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The SAF has also engaged in "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 indiscriminate attacks on civilian populated areas as well as the alleged recruitment of children. The group shot down a UN helicopter over Kadugli on 26 January, although no crewmembers were injured.
Sudan has consistently failed to honor African Union (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 to civilians in conflict areas. On 25 December the government ordered the expulsion of the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and the UN Development Programme Country Director. The government rejected calls from the UN Secretary-General to reverse its decision.
The most recent round of talks between the government and the SPLM-N were held between 12 and 17 November under the auspices of the AU High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) for Sudan. On 15 November both parties endorsed an AUHIP-proposed draft framework agreement to resolve the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. However, fighting resumed shortly after.
The situation in Darfur also remains dire as civilians face ongoing inter-communal violence as well as SAF ground and air attacks. Fighting between the SAF and rebel groups contributed to the displacement of more than 430,000 people during 2014. On 26 November the UN Secretary-General released his latest report on Darfur, which noted 55 attacks against civilians with 23 allegedly perpetrated by the SAF between 22 July and 15 November. During the same period over 700 civilians were killed as a result of inter-communal violence. The UN reported on 21 January that recent fighting in several areas of North Darfur resulted in the displacement of 18,000 people.
The AU-UN hybrid peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID) has criticized the government for restricting its ability to uphold its civilian protection mandate. On 4 November UNAMID entered Tabit, after initially being refused access by the SAF, to investigate allegations of the mass rape of approximately 200 women and girls. The UN Secretary-General noted that the heavy presence of military and police in Tabit "made a conclusive investigation difficult." The SAF has subsequently prohibited UNAMID from conducting further investigations despite the UNSC and Secretary-General calling for the government to allow unhindered access. Human Rights Watch published a report on 11 February, providing evidence that the mass rape of at least 211 women took place between 30 October and 1 November.
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 more than three years.
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 and the SPLM-N to honor past agreements on the cessation of hostilities and delivery of humanitarian assistance.
Indiscriminate bombings of rebel-held areas demonstrate an unwillingness to distinguish between combatants and civilians, actions that violate IHL and may amount to crimes against humanity. The SAF has systematically targeted hospitals and clinics, depriving the local population of life saving care. The government also continues to block UN agencies and independent media from access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The intensification of bombing during the May through August planting season may demonstrate a deliberate strategy of denying food supplies to vulnerable civilian populations.
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.
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 56 resolutions on Sudan since 2004, most of which have not been fully implemented. Acting on behalf of the AUHIP, former South African President Thabo Mbeki has facilitated regular talks between the government of Sudan and the SPLM-N since 2011. [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 International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2007 for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. The ICC also issued a warrant for President Bashir in 2010 for perpetrating genocide in Darfur. On 11 September the ICC issued an arrest warrant against Darfur rebel leader Abdallah Banda on war crimes charges for his alleged role in an attack on AU peacekeepers during September 2007 in northern Darfur.
On 12 December the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC suspended its Darfur investigation due to the failure of the UNSC to meaningfully assist in the arrest of indicted suspects.
On 18 December the AU Peace and Security Council extended the AUHIP's mandate until 31 December 2015.
NECESSARY ACTION: The government and the SPLM-N, in accordance with UNSC Resolution 2046, must cease hostilities and should 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 the government and the SPLM-N facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, as stipulated in the 2011 Framework Agreement and 2012 cooperation agreements. States with major investments in Sudan, including China, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, should press the government to fulfill its commitments.
The UNSC's review of UNAMID should emphasize civilian protection as a key strategic priority. The government must stop obstructing UNAMID and allow them to conduct investigations into gross human rights violations. Mediation efforts should be facilitated between the government and armed groups operating in Darfur.
Crimes against humanity and war crimes perpetrated in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur must be thoroughly investigated. The UNSC should mandate the establishment of an independent international commission of inquiry for South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Last Updated: 13 February 2015