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. The SAF and SPLM-N 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, 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, including the 14 December 2013 shelling of civilian areas of Kadugli, South Kordofan, in direct violation of international humanitarian law (IHL).
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. The SAF issued a statement on 21 December claiming to have recaptured 17 areas previously controlled by the SRF. The Satellite Sentinel Project has used satellite imagery to confirm large-scale aerial bombardment of civilian areas by the SAF in Buram and Dilling counties, South Kordofan, during mid-November. The SAF has continued indiscriminate aerial bombardments, including airstrikes on Yabus, Blue Nile, on 27 January and Korongo, South Kordofan, on 31 January.
The ongoing conflict has led to the internal displacement of over 1 million civilians while more than 230,000 have fled to South Sudan and Ethiopia. Recent violence in South Sudan has resulted in some refugees returning. The government continues to block UN agencies, international humanitarian organizations, monitors 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 its operations in Sudan.
Sudan has consistently failed to honor African Union (AU)-brokered agreements and UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions calling for a cessation of hostilities. Direct negotiations between the government of Sudan and the SPLM-N to reach a comprehensive solution to the conflict commenced on 13 February following an invitation from the AU High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) for Sudan. The talks adjourned on 18 February with the AUHIP proposing a new draft framework agreement.
The governor of South Kordofan alleged that the SPLM-N shelled Kadugli immediately after the suspension of talks. He announced that military operations, including the reinforcement of SAF troops in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, would continue until the next round of negotiations. Both parties resumed talks on 28 February, but on 2 March the AUHIP noted that negotiations had broken down again and referred the issue to the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC). On 12 March the AU PSC announced a 30 April deadline for the government and
SPLM-N to reach a settlement.
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 215,000 people so far during 2014. The SAF launched an indiscriminate bombing campaign on East Jebel Marra on 18 March, which resulted in a number of civilian casualties and the displacement of over 15,000 people.
Since late February the government-sponsored Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a mixed force of SAF and various militias, has targeted villages in South Darfur resulting in civilian fatalities, the destruction of property and the displacement of over 45,000 people. The RSF has since launched attacks in Jebel Marra and North Darfur, including in Kutum locality on 26 March. The UN peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID), which has been deployed since 2007 and consists of approximately 14,500 troops and 4,500 police, has criticized the government for restricting its ability to uphold its civilian protection mandate.
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 IHL and may amount to crimes against humanity. Both the government and the SPLM-N have continued attacks against civilian areas despite negotiations.
Nearly two years since the adoption of UNSC Resolution 2046, the UN 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.
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 in the region 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.
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 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 March 2013, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States.]
Acting on behalf of the AUHIP for Sudan, 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 and the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued statements on 10 and 11 March, respectively, expressing concern regarding the situation in South Darfur and calling upon the government to protect civilians and hold perpetrators accountable.
The UNSC issued a Press Statement on 17 March which called upon the government of Sudan and the SPLM-N to cease hostilities, engage in direct negotiations without preconditions 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 attacks against 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 the escalating violence in Darfur.
NECESSARY ACTION:The government of Sudan and SPLM-N, in accordance 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 enter peace negotiations and enable 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 government of Sudan must stop obstructing UNAMID. UNAMID must robustly protect civilians facing an imminent threat of physical violence, in line with its civilian protection obligations, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Mediation efforts should be renewed between the government of Sudan and armed movements 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: 9 April 2014