No one could call it a happy anniversary: roughly ten years ago, the Sudanese government embarked on a genocidal campaign in the Darfur province against local non-Arab ethnic groups, a decision which the U.N. estimated as taking around 300,000 lives. Today, violence is still ongoing in Darfur (albeit at a lower level) and, to make matters worse, the government in Khartoum is escalating a murderous military campaign against rebels and local civilians in two other provinces — South Kordofan and Blue Nile. While many experts will likely weigh in this week with detailed and knowledgable assessments of the violence in Sudan past and present (CAP’s Enough Project, for example, is doing a ten-day commemoration event), it’s also worth exploring the values at work in anti-genocide campaigns. Because a concern with protecting international human rights, and legal accountability for their violation, has deep roots in the American liberal tradition — a point that should remind us why the suffering in Sudan today should be a critical issue for progressives today.
First, we must understand what’s actually happening in Sudan today. In June of 2011, the Sudanese central government attacked the southern province of South Kordofan, home to a series of ethnic groups collectively referred to as the Nuba. The incursion spread to nearby Blue Nile in September. In a sense, the offensives were outgrowths of the semi-settled conflict with the recently independent South Sudan: the anti-government forces in both provinces, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), began as part the original SPLM, now better known as the South Sudanese Army. The government’s move into South Kordofan and Blue Nile was an attempt to destroy the SPLM-N and exert total control over the provinces.
The government’s murderous tactics in these fights have proven its leaders have learned the most terrible lesson of Darfur: you can kill civilians with impunity. Khartoum indiscriminately drops dumb bombs from Antonov cargo planes on heavily populated areas in both states. Human Rights Watch has found that “vast majority of bomb victims” in South Kordofan are civilians, largely “women, children, and the elderly.” Government forces, who particularly target the ethnically distinct Nuba people, in the province have routinely “shelled and bombed residential neighborhoods, looted and burned down homes and churches, shot at civilians, killed civilians including UN staff, and arrested scores of people suspected of links to the SPLM.” The story is the same in Blue Nile: one observer describes the government strategy as “controlling the population and its movement: sometimes by creating the conditions of famine; sometimes by forcing people to flee; and most insidiously, by encircling them to prevent them from moving into rebel-controlled areas or escaping to neighboring countries offering sanctuary.” “The result,” he writes,”has been immense suffering and slow death.”