By Brad Phillips and Matt Chancey
The Republic of Sudan has a turbulent history. Since its independence from the British in 1956, it has been in an almost constant state of war. The causes of wars can sometimes be hard to pin down. But the wars in post-independence Sudan have essentially arisen from the long-standing friction between the Arabized culture in Khartoum and the diverse indigenous black African cultures in the rest of the country.
Viewed by the minority Arab Islamist elites that dominate the government as either infidels or apostates in faith and inferior in race, the indigenous African tribes in the regions of central, western (Darfur), southern Blue Nile, and former southern Sudan have suffered marginalization, persecution, and genocide for more than 50 years.
The ruling regime in Khartoum, the National Congress Party (NCP), officially came to power through a coup in 1989. The NCP (at that time called the National Islamic Front, or NIF) immediately began an intensive campaign of ethnic cleansing to “Arabize” and “Islamize” all of Sudan. The main resistance to this assault came through the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), led by a charismatic leader, Dr. John Garang de Mabior. Garang was a Christian from South Sudan, but he desired freedom and self-determination for all people groups in Sudan. His vision was called the “New Sudan.”
The war between the SPLM and NCP resulted in more than 2.6 million deaths in southern Sudan, southern Blue Nile, and the Nuba Mountains. In January 2005, brokered by the United States Government and bolstered through international pressure, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement(CPA) was signed in Naivasha, Kenya.
The CPA opened the way for the historic Referendum for Self-Determination on January 9, 2011 and the resulting secession of the southern region forming the world’s newest nation, the Republic of South Sudan. Included in the CPA were the Machakos Protocols which addressed the issue of self-determination for the marginalized Nuba people of Southern Kordofan State as well as the people of southern Blue Nile.
But in 2003, even as the negotiations were ongoing between the NCP and the SPLM/A, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir redirected his genocidal energies to a region not covered by the CPA: Sudan’s western region of Darfur. And so far, that campaign has claimed an estimated 400,000 lives. The Darfur genocide did not go unnoticed, and international pressure led the International Criminal Court (ICC) to indict Sudan President Omar al-Bashir and his main executioner in Darfur, Ahmed Haroun, for war crimes and genocide. Haroun did not gain his experience in genocide from Darfur. He had been Bashir’s executioner in the Nuba Mountains during the 1990s. In the Nuba region of Southern Kordofan, home to fifty indigenous African tribes, Haroun oversaw the deaths of 500,000 people, roughly half the population.
If you have read this far, you can see that the NCP easily makes al Qaeda look like an amateur terrorist organization.
But this is all in the past, right? We wish that were true.
The Nuba Mountains are located on the southern border of what is now the Republic of Sudan, but its population consists of largely black, indigenous communities. The Nuba are also home to the largest Christian community in Sudan, although there are large numbers of Muslims living there as well. Because of the unique landscape and history of the area, to be Nuba is to be part of a diverse and tolerant culture. Christians and Muslims live together and often intermarry.
The hero of the Nuba people who rallied them to join the rebellion of Dr John Garang and his SPLM/A against the NCP regime in Khartoum was the late Yousef Kuwa Mekki. Abdelaziz Adam Al-Hilu was selected by Yousef Kuwa and the Nuba people to be his successor and lead the Nuba people to freedom from the totalitarian policies of Bashir’s NIF/NCP regime. Tragically, the hard-fought promises negotiated in the CPA for Nuba self-determination died with Dr. Garang in 2005.
The CPA specified that the Nuba people would have a free election, followed by a popular consultation, whereby elected leaders would interview their constituents and determine what the people wanted with regard to their political future. This consultation process would hopefully pave the way for a regime change or power-sharing arrangement in Khartoum that recognized and respected the rights of all of Sudan’s diverse communities.
This popular consultation never happened.
During the elections in May of this year, evidence points to massive fraud by the NCP, which chose a very well-known person to run for the top position as Nuba Governor: Ahmed Haroun—the indicted war criminal who had been called back to the Nuba Mountains from Darfur to finish what he started in the 1990s.
After being declared the winner of the rigged election by the NCP, Governor Haroun attempted to disarm and expel the SPLA from the Nuba Mountains. This action was yet another violation of the CPA, which provided for the continued presence of the SPLA in the Nuba Mountains up to 90 days after the end of the Interim on July 9th, 2011.
When the SPLA refused to disarm, President Bashir sent in the troops. On June 5th, war began. On June 6th, the capitol city of Kadugli was attacked and sacked. Thousands of Nuba people in Kadugli were killed in the days that followed. Reportedly more than 13,000 Nuba people sought refuge in the UNMIS compound in Kadugli. An estimated 7,000 were removed by SAF forces and then “disappeared.” Reports of bulldozers demolishing homes and mass graves have trickled out through eye witnesses and satellite photos.
In July, we spent two weeks on the ground in Southern Kordofan. Our team received eye-witness testimony from more than a dozen individuals who escaped the massacres in Kadugli. The consistent theme was of NCP/SAF forces conducting house-to-house searches, specifically targeting people who fit any of these three descriptions: 1. ethnic Nuba, 2. Christians, and 3. anyone affiliated with the SPLM.
Soon after all the Nuba people had either fled Kadugli or been slaughtered, the SAF expanded the scope of its Nuba cleansing campaign by conducting daily aerial bombing of civilian areas in the five counties where most Nuba people live. Thousands were killed in June and July, but hundreds of thousands were displaced–forced to flee to the mountains to escape the bombings.
During our two-week visit, we interviewed dozens of people from all five affected counties, including deposed government ministers, pastors, and farmers. The testimonies, evidence of war crimes, and attempted genocide by the Khartoum regime against its own people is tragically reminiscent of the same story well documented by Julie Flint and others in the 1980s and 90s.
The only essential difference between the Nuba in the 1990s and today is that the SPLM/A has clearly taken the fight to the NCP. After 500,000 dead and years of broken promises, marginalization, and persecution, the Nuba people have had enough. If it were not for the stubborn resistance of the SPLM/A, led by their inspirational leader, Abdelaziz Adam Al-Hilu, we would be witnessing another Rwandan-style genocide.
But what about the West and the rest of the international community? Have we had enough of the NCP? Are we willing to continue tolerating this bloodthirsty, bigoted, and genocidal regime currently murdering its own people yet again?
Why is the US bombing Libya and treating Gaddafi as if he is some genocidal maniac, yet remaining effectively silent while the Nuba people are slaughtered and starved out by a leader who has easily killed 100 times more of his own people?
Some members of the Obama Administration are claiming that there is insufficient proof that the NCP is committing war crimes in the Nuba Mountains even though seasoned, credible reporters from The New York Times, Time Magazine, Aljazeera English, The Independent, and others have visited the region and published testimonies, pictures, and videos clearly proving that war crimes are taking place.
President Obama campaigned on a very strong position against the NCP, including the support of a no-fly zone in Darfur. He has since been criticized for his paltry action in the region. Now, the NCP is at it again next door in the Nuba Mountains. Three million dead and counting, Mr. President. How many more will be added on your watch?
Brad Phillips and Matt Chancey recently returned from 12 days in the Nuba mountains of Southern Kordofan State, where they were eyewitness to the ongoing genocidal campaign against the indigenous Nuba people sponsored by the NCP regime in Khartoum.
Brad Phillips is President of Persecution Project Foundation (persecutionproject.org) and Founder of The 100 Wells Campaign (100wellscampaign.org) Matt Chancey is a founding Board Member of Persecution Project Foundation.