Several years ago, thanks to one of the most remarkable solidarity networks of recent years, including scholars, journalists, celebrities and the Save Darfur movement activists, the world learned of the Government of Sudan’s (GOS) brutal campaign of violence against civilians in Darfur.
Beginning in 2003, government forces and a proxy militia called the Janjaweed massacred more than 300,000 Darfuri people and displaced two million more. Although the Security Council failed to stop the atrocities, eventually, the International Criminal Court did charge Sudan president Omar al-Bashir with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
For a number of weeks now, there have been disturbingly familiar reports of attacks on civilian areas in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan. This area remains part of the Republic of Sudan, the northern portion of the now-divided country of Sudan, but the contested border region has long been a stronghold of the southern Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
For that the inhabitants are paying a terrible price, with the GOS employing strategies with which other Sudanese have been all too familiar. The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reports that “human rights violations include: aerial bombardments resulting in the destruction of property, forced displacement, significant loss of civilian lives, including of women, children and the elderly; abductions; house-to-house searches; arbitrary arrests and detentions; targeted killings; summary executions; reports of mass graves; systematic destruction of dwellings and attacks on churches.”
Like Darfur, the GOS campaign in the Nuba Mountains is characterized by the killings of individuals based on their non-Arab ethnicity and their political affiliation. While SPLA rebel insurgents are also accountable for renewed hostilities in the region, GOS forces have perpetrated the majority of the violence in South Kordofan.
Despite the pressure to intervene, the international community, as represented by the UN Security Council, led by the powerful permanent five members, did little to nothing to stop the GOS massacre of civilians in Darfur while they were being perpetrated. The bulk of the killing occurred from 2003-2005, but newspapers did not begin to publish consistent reports about Darfur until well into 2004. As civilians were massacred and raped, the United States, the UN, and international NGOs sent atrocities-investigations teams, wrote reports and argued about whether the actions of the GOS constituted “genocide” or simply “mass killing.”
President Bush was among those who openly described the attack on the Darfuris as a genocide, even while he was actively colluding with the GOS on anti-terrorist issues. The Save Darfur coalition and student activists did not gain traction until 2005-2006. Not until a year later did the Security Council resolve to send an African Union-United Nation hybrid peacekeeping mission to Darfur to protect civilians.
Will the international community do better this time? Do the permanent five members of the UN Security Council have the will to step in before the killings are over? We know the patterns of the Bashir-led government only too well. It will respond to the SPLA insurgency with mass atrocities and genocide. We have seen this pattern of brutality from Bashir repeatedly -- in Darfur in the 2000s, in the Nuba mountains in the 1990s, and in other areas of Sudan over the decades. Will he be allowed to get away with it yet again? The current crisis in the Nuba mountains will likely continue and could escalate, possibly to the point of genocide. But we needn’t get hung up on terms—whether it’s genocide or not, there are mass atrocities that demand intervention.
The international community must demand an immediate end to attacks on civilians and a ceasefire between government forces and SPLA rebel insurgents. There must be an immediate ICC investigation into human rights violations, a determination of who bears responsibility for them, and measures to stop further violence. We must also insist on the implementation of the Popular Consultations required under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement for a peaceful resolution in South Kordofan.
If the ceasefire is broken by either side (or both), the international community will need to consider additional measures, including sanctions, constraints on the GOS and SPLA’s use of the international banking systems, and a well-equipped Chapter VII peacekeeping mission in South Kordofan that protects civilians without aiding, encouraging, or emboldening rebellion. Such a force could open up air space and allow humanitarian groups to deliver food, water, and medical supplies and, if necessary, potentially enforce a no-fly zone over the embattled region of South Kordofan.
We have all the information we need to act. If we are going to prevent additional atrocities against civilians in the south of Sudan, we need to act now. The only question is whether the permanent five members of the Security Council now have the political will which every one of them, to their shame, lacked during the Darfur crisis.
Amanda Grzyb is assistant professor of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario and editor of The World and Darfur: International Response to Crimes Against Humanity in Western Sudan (McGill-Queens University Press 2009). Gerald Caplan is author of The Betrayal of Africa and Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide.