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 extrajudicial killing, forced displacement and sexual violence against civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The SAF has engaged in the 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.
Indiscriminate aerial bombardments by the SAF have increased as part of a summer military offensive conducted since April. SAF attacks included airstrikes on medical facilities during May and June. The SAF indiscriminately shelled civilian areas in Delami County between 12 and 27 April. The SPLM-N launched a counteroffensive on 28 May by indiscriminately shelling Kadugli, in direct violation of IHL. The SAF's intensified bombing campaign coincided with South Kordofan's planting season, which takes place from May to July.
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 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. While the rainy season has resulted in a reduction in fighting since late May, it has also meant less accurate reporting of ongoing attacks on civilians.
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. On 28 August the government finally agreed to allow operations to resume.
Sudan has consistently failed to honor 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.
Direct negotiations between the government of Sudan and the SPLM-N were held on 22 April under the auspices of the 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 SAF ground and air operations. Fighting between the SAF and rebel groups has contributed to the displacement of nearly 400,000 people so far this year.
Between late February and early August the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a government-sponsored mixed force of SAF and various militias, 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 North Darfur.
The AU-UN hybrid peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID) 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 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 that 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 UNSC adopted 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 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 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 ICC in 2007 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 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. [For responses prior to June 2014, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States.]
On 27 August the UNSC adopted Resolution 2173, which extended UNAMID's mandate until 30 June 2015 and prioritized civilian protection and humanitarian efforts.
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 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 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 September 2014