Violence in Sudan

In my last post, I wrote about my friend and former colleague Musa John and described a brief period of his life in the Nuba Mountain’s of Sudan. I purposely kept the post short because I wanted to allow anyone reading the chance to gradually get to know the people and places that I have come to know in my past year there. The plan was to delve deeper into the stories over time, so that current events could be more clearly understood.

Gradually, I could have described how Musa became a young soldier when Sudan’s central government tried to violently destroy the Nuba people and how he fought for years alongside the Southern army with hopes of his Nuba homeland becoming part of an independent Southern nation. I could have  written about the moment he discovered that the peace agreement left the Nuba people with no choice but to join Northern Sudan, the same regime they had fought against for so long, and how later he would tell me solemnly, “We fought for nothing.”

Eventually, I could have described how Musa returned home after seven years at Kakuma refugee camp and worked his way up from volunteer to radio journalist in one of the most remote and undeveloped places in the world.

Instead, I am writing about Sudan with urgency.

According to a report distributed this afternoon by Sudan analyst John Ashworth, there is no question about the scale of violence currently taking place on behalf of Omar Al Bashir’s central government in Khartoum. “It is ethnic cleansing, and it is not new,” he said. “This has been done by the current Khartoum regime in the Nuba Mountains before (1990s) and more recently in Darfur.”

Arguably, the start of this year brought reasons to feel hopeful about the future of Sudan. The referendum held in January was a definitive moment for the entire country, as Southern Sudanese citizens voted to split from the North and form an independent nation in July. It was the final step of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that put an end to more than two decades of civil war. Still, the South’s Independence Day is quickly approaching and the problems in Sudan are getting worse, not better.

Violence sharply escalated on May 21st as the Northern army brutally occupied the Abyei region, a disputed area on the North-South border that has long been coveted by both sides for its oil supply. Tens of thousands of citizens were forced to flee their homes, arriving en masse in neighboring states. Many remain displaced without shelter, their presence exacerbating humanitarian crises in communities that are already scarce in resources.

More recently the violence has spread into Southern Kordofan State, home to the Nuba Mountains and also to Kauda – the small community in which Musa lives and where I spent many days working with journalists at the local radio station. Yesterday I received an email from Musa telling me that despite the fighting in the state, the Kauda radio station was still running and his community was okay – but the report distributed by Ashworth just hours ago stated that nearly 60 soldiers from the Northern army have been found dead along the road to Kauda and that the cellular networks in the area have been shut down.

In a report issued yesterday, Human Rights Watch called on the Sudanese government to “immediately stop bombing civilian areas and halt human rights abuses by its soldiers and allied militia forces in Southern Kordofan.” It also called on the United Nations, the African Union, and other governments to “strongly condemn the violations of international humanitarian law and call on Sudan to immediately rein in its forces and allow humanitarian access to all affected populations.”

This report echoed the sentiment relayed to me yesterday during a conversation I had with a Sudanese journalist based in Juba, the South’s capital. “Mere barking dogs,” was the phrase he used to describe the international community in their response to the crisis so far. He said stronger actions and words are needed from the international community to put pressure on president Bashir, something on par with the international concern in Libya. “How can he be allowed to displace the entire Abyei population?” he asked.

If nothing else, through this post I hope to bring awareness to what is happening in Sudan as we speak. To the violence already described as ethnic cleansing. To the brutal crimes attributed to a president who has already been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. And to the crimes that have been allowed to continue for far too long and that are quickly spreading throughout the country, costing more and more lives each day.

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