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 and their allied paramilitaries, the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), have committed war crimes, including extra-judicial killing, forced displacement and sexual violence against civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented the SAF's widespread 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.
Heavy fighting between the SAF and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), an umbrella organization consisting of the SPLM-N and other armed rebel groups, has been reported since mid-November in South Kordofan.
On 14 April Sudan's Defence Minister declared the start of a summer military offensive, aimed at ending the rebellion, which has expanded to include new areas in South Kordofan. The SAF, alongside the government-sponsored Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a mixed force of SAF and various militias, recaptured the Daldako area on 18 May. The SAF indiscriminately shelled civilian areas in Delami County between 12 and 27 April. The SPLM-N launched a counter-offensive on 28 May by indiscriminately shelling Kadugli, in direct violation of international humanitarian law (IHL).
Indiscriminate aerial bombardments by the SAF have increased since April, displacing 25,900 civilians. These attacks include airstrikes on a medical facility in Gidel on 1 and 2 May as well as the repeated bombing of civilian areas in Kauda during late May. Another hospital was bombed in Farandalla on 16 June.
The ongoing conflict has led to the internal displacement of over 1.2 million civilians while more than 243,500 have fled to South Sudan and Ethiopia. The upsurge in violence since April has resulted in over 116,000 new internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The government continues to block UN agencies, international humanitarian organizations and independent media from access to rebel-held areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. On 1 February the government ordered the International Committee of the Red Cross to halt operations in Sudan, with severe consequences for the population in areas affected by armed conflict. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network forecasted that 40 percent of IDPs in SPLM-N controlled areas of South Kordofan will face emergency levels of food insecurity until September.
Sudan has consistently failed to honor AU-brokered agreements and UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions calling for a cessation of hostilities. This includes the failure to end aerial bombardments, disarm pro-government militias and allow humanitarian access.
Direct negotiations between the government of Sudan and the SPLM-N were held on 13 February, 28 February and 22 April under the auspices of the African Union (AU) High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) for Sudan. The talks collapsed due to the failure of both sides to agree upon a framework agreement for negotiations.
The security situation in Darfur has also deteriorated as a result of escalating inter-communal violence and renewed SAF ground and air operations. Intensified fighting between the SAF and rebel groups has contributed to the displacement of more than 390,100 people so far this year. The SAF launched a bombing campaign on East Jebel Marra on 18 March, resulting in the displacement of over 15,000 people.
Since late February the RSF has targeted villages in South Darfur resulting in civilian fatalities, destruction of property and displacement of over 45,000 people. The RSF has also attacked civilians in South Darfur and North Darfur, including in Kutum on 26 March.
The AU-UN hybrid peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID) has criticized the government for restricting its ability to uphold its civilian protection mandate. A peacekeeper was killed in North Darfur on 24 May.
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 three years. Both the government and the SPLM-N have continued attacks against civilian areas despite negotiations.
Indiscriminate bombings of rebel-held areas demonstrate an unwillingness to distinguish between combatants and civilians, actions which violate IHL and may amount to crimes against humanity. The intensification of bombing during the planting season, combined with the refusal to allow humanitarian access, may demonstrate a deliberate strategy of denying food supplies to vulnerable civilian populations.
More than two years since the adoption of Resolution 2046, which called for a negotiated settlement to the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, the UNSC and AU have failed to push the government of Sudan and the SPLM-N to honor agreements to cease hostilities and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid. The government of Sudan has prohibited access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile and is systematically preventing aid from reaching populations that are now at risk of starvation.
Despite the presence of UNAMID, the security situation in Darfur continues to deteriorate. Recent inter-communal violence and the expanded operations of the SAF and RSF 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: 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) for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. The ICC issued a warrant for President Bashir in 2010 for perpetrating genocide in Darfur. The UNSC has adopted 55 resolutions on Sudan since 2004, most of which have not been fully implemented. [For responses prior to March 2014, 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 government of Sudan and the SPLM-N since 2011.
The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, issued statements on 10 and 11 March, respectively, expressing concern regarding the deteriorating situation in South Darfur and calling for the government to protect civilians. On 27 March the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan and the deputy head of UNAMID issued a joint statement expressing concern over escalating violence in Darfur.
The UNSC issued a Press Statement on 17 March calling upon the government of Sudan and the SPLM-N to cease hostilities and reach a comprehensive settlement to the conflicts in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, in accordance with Resolution 2046. It also called upon both parties to refrain from attacking civilians. The UNSC released a Press Statement on 24 May condemning the deadly attack against UNAMID.
On 18 June the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan issued a statement expressing concern over the aerial bombardment of medical facilities in South Kordofan.
NECESSARY ACTION:The government of Sudan and the SPLM-N, in accordance with UNSC Resolution 2046, 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 the government of Sudan 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.
UNAMID must robustly protect civilians facing an imminent threat of violence, in line with its mandate, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Mediation efforts should be renewed between the government of Sudan and armed groups operating in Darfur. The government of Sudan must stop deliberately obstructing UNAMID.
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: 15 July 2014