Christian and other minority groups in Sudan continue to be victimized by a government that has been accused for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. After South Sudan split away from Sudan in 2011, many through the victimization of Christians in Sudan would be a thing of the past. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Christians and other minority groups remain under attack. Will the international community step up and confront this issue?
2/12/2013 Sudan (WorldMag) – It’s been almost two years since Sudan divided into two countries, but the problems of political Islam and ethnic cleansing won’t go away.
Many bystanders believed that the successful 2011 partition of Sudan into two countries would end the African nation’s long civil war and attendant atrocities. By demarcating the country along borders that roughly reflected its Islamic, Arab north from its black African, Christian, and animist south—and creating a country now officially known as South Sudan—the thinking was that the two countries could perhaps live at peace, their racial and religious divides now traced and protected by an internationally recognized border and two separate governments. Yasir Arman was never a believer.
Arman—a long-standing leader of the South’s rebel army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), and a close confidant of its legendary leader, John Garang—has argued for years that the “northern question” was the one that had to be resolved, not the “southern question.”
For too long everyone has tried to figure out what to do about the South, he told me recently, how to separate and protect its people from Islamic aggression: “The international community hasn’t been willing to talk about what to do about the North, what to do about the problem of political Islam.”
Arman is himself a Muslim. But he’s no friend of the Islamic regime based in Khartoum, and serves as secretary-general of SPLM-North, the rebel movement operating within Sudan to carry on the quest embodied by Garang, who died in a 2005 helicopter crash. Arman is one of a number of Muslims who fought and served under Garang, a Christian, sharing his vision for preserving Sudan’s diversity within a democratic state that respects human rights and the rule of law.
“Political Islam is going to divide Africa,” said Arman. “What we have been fighting for over 20 years you now see dividing Egypt, Mali, Nigeria, and Somalia.”
Leaving the “northern question” unresolved has left in power for two decades President Omar al-Bashir, who has sheltered terrorists like Osama bin Laden and is an indicted war criminal before the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Not surprisingly, the conflict and atrocities once visited on the South are escalating in the North—particularly in the ethnically and religiously diverse border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
For the last 18 months those states, home to over 2.5 million Sudanese, have endured aerial bombardments by their own government and military incursions that have driven more than 200,000 people, according to Arman, from their homes. On the ground, armed conflict between government forces and Arman’s SPLM-North prompted Bashir to block outside humanitarian aid—and led to charges that the government there has engaged in ethnic cleansing, and perhaps genocide.
“Ethnic cleansing is largely complete,” concluded former top UN official Mukesh Kapila after a January fact-finding trip to the two states. “Rebel areas are depopulated and largely empty.”
In Blue Nile, Kapila found fields and villages razed, he said. He heard the local population described on Sudanese state radio as “black plastic bags” that had to be cleared from the area. He estimates 450,000 people in Blue Nile affected by the government’s campaign against them.
In South Kordofan, Kapila told reporters, he saw people “living in caves and cracks and eating once every three days.” With sustained bombing of the Nuba Mountains area, and the government blockade on aid, disease and malnutrition are multiplying. “We saw people sitting at the side of the road, with too little energy to even become refugees, who have given up,” Kapila told the Agence France-Presse news service.
On Jan. 31 Kapila and Baroness Caroline Cox, who accompanied Kapila on the trip and is a member of Britain’s Parliament and a longtime advocate for Sudanese Christians, presented a formal report to Aegis Trust in London. Aegis monitors humanitarian crises around the world and could issue a genocide warning for the area in coming weeks.
Conflict in the two-state area began in mid-2011 when Sudan’s military seized Abyei, a disputed border town. Fighting spread to South Kordofan and Blue Nile, states with a diverse mix of Christians and Muslims and varied tribes, all opposing the political makeup forced on them by the Sudanese government as South Sudan gained independence. At the same time Bashir announced his intent to “strengthen Islamic law” with an Islamic constitution, prompting angry demonstrations even in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital.
With mass starvation and exodus in the border areas, thousands fled into South Sudan. That didn’t halt aerial bombardments from the North. In November 2011 international journalists were on hand when Khartoum’s military aircraft fired directly into Yida refugee camp in South Sudan. And humanitarian workers have confirmed over 40 aerial assaults on South Sudan camps housing the North’s refugees.