Over two months since the conflagration in the Sudanese border state of South Kordofan broke out, violence continues to persist, and the warring parties have not re-opened dialogue. Despite findings by the United Nations report that suggest war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in the conflict, the international response has moved little beyond rhetoric.
The security situation in South Kordofan, where fighting between the Sudanese army, or SAF, and the insurgent SPLA-N has been ongoing since early June, “remains tense and volatile” through the latter half of July, according to the latest U.N. readout of the situation on the ground. Areas controlled by the SPLA-N continued to be bombed, and landmines planted throughout the state capital of Kadugli posed a considerable threat to civilian life and limited the access of humanitarians, according to the report,. While a number of humanitarian efforts have made progress, the report noted that U.N. agencies remained short of fully operational, partly due to recently introduced procedures by the Sudanese government’s humanitarian arm, which have “hindered” the ability of international staff to enter the state. An estimated 200,000 civilians have been displaced by the conflict, according to the U.N.
On the political side, leaders of the SPLM-N have at once publicly hardened their position—declaring their intent to ally with Darfuri rebel groups to overthrow the ruling National Congress Party—while quietly keeping channels to the Sudanese government open. SPLM-N chairman Malik Agar recently met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who is an increasingly influential broker between the Sudanese government and its various negotiating partners. Agar is also governor of Blue Nile state, which neighbors South Kordofan and whose population shares in many of the same grievances; the potential for conflict to spread to Blue Nile is likely a factor behind Agar’s more flexible stance.
Whether the proposed alliance between the various rebel movements will actually result in a politically and militarily unified force that will pose a threat to the Sudanese government is up in the air. Discussions are ongoing between the SPLM-N and Darfuri rebel groups, and the history of rebel movements fracturing in Sudan—often provoked by meddling from Khartoum—is long.
On Monday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights issued the public version of a report documenting human rights and humanitarian law violations committed in the first month of fighting in South Kordofan. (The draft report, leaked weeks ago, was previewed on Enough Said.) Though most of the report’s substance and recommendations have been preserved, the tone of the public version is noticeably subdued and some details removed or changed. Notably, the public version no longer includes language in the draft text that underscored the SAF’s “especially egregious” conduct toward civilians, and analysis that the Sudanese government’s actions were what triggered the conflict.
The edited version also revised an incident detailed in the original text in which government police and armed men were described as carrying weapons in and out of the UNMIS protective perimeter (where thousands of IDPs had sought refuge) without intervention from U.N peacekeepers. In the new version, government police and armed men carried weapons in and out of an “IDP area situated outside the UNMIS protective perimeter” (emphasis added). The public version also removed details of an incident in which government security agents posing as Sudan Red Crescent workers effectively forced thousands of IDPs out from what was supposed to be a U.N. protected area.
Last week, 53 U.S. members of Congress signed a letter to President Barack Obama that called for a “vociferous response from the United States” in response to the attacks on the Nuba and asked the president to make a personal public statement “condemning the violence in Southern Kordofan and unconscionable attacks on civilians.” Whether congressional pressure will move the U.S. administration from dialogue to action on this pressing issue remains to be seen.
Photo: Satellite imagery of potential mass graves near Tilo School in Kadugli, South Kordofan (Digital Global)