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The video footage that has recently made it out of the Nuba Mountains region in Sudan is, for the most part, gruesome. Targeted attacks on the civilian population by Sudanese military forces have left women raped, children subjected to extreme violence and communities irreparably wounded. With 1.2 million people living in refugee camps, and two thirds of the population on humanitarian aid, the Sudanese people are a population familiar with the feeling of displacement.
In July 2011, South Sudan gained independence after a civil war between the North and the South, manifesting in the widespread and bloody massacres of 2003-4. Although the ethnic divide in Sudan is between the non-Muslims, non-Arabs and the Arab Islamic majority, the root of the violence is both controversial and complex.
The peace agreement itself has caused border disputes, as well as disagreements over oil revenues in the region. According to individuals such as Sir John Holmes, a former British diplomat and UN humanitarian official, the implementation of the peace agreement failed in part because of a suspicion within the rebel forces of the African Union (AU). But resistance to the agreement comes from both sides. The Government of North Sudan, many of whom, including the President, have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), have economic and regional reasons to resist the independence of the South. Government resistance extends to the humanitarian effort in the region – making it increasingly difficult for aid workers to enter – out of fear that the NGOs will reveal the extent of human rights abuses.
After visiting the region this year, former UN Humanitarian Coordinator Dr Mukesh Kapila stated that “Darfur was the first genocide of the 21st century and the second genocide of the 21st century might be unfolding right now in the Nuba Mountains.” Currently a special representative for the Nottingham-based AEGIS Trust, Kapila argues that there is a structural problem with the UN effort that does not link the political fragility of Sudan to the humanitarian relief attempts. Subcontracting principal responsibility by the UN is just one example of a lack of investment in the political capital in Sudan. But the international community faces a challenge, leaving it lacking in unity; that of acknowledging the necessity of engagement with the Sudanese Government, while also denouncing them for crimes against humanity.
But the proposed solutions have moved beyond a need to simply raise awareness of the human rights abuses in the region. These solutions call for official arms transfers to be stopped and action to be taken against companies selling military equipment in the area. But more fundamentally there is a call, by people such as founder of the Sudanese Programme at Oxford University, Dr. Ahmed Al-Shahi, for a united international movement. Yet, one may question what effect the international community can have when much of the cause of the problem lies in internal cultural and systemic conflicts, which are perpetuated by an unstable political structure. Until the international community has the will to, and is seen to have the right to, affect the nature of the states themselves, this political restructure and the enforcement of ICC indictments cannot be carried out.
The legitimacy of state intervention is a controversial topic, as events following the Arab Spring have proven. Where the responsibility for crimes against humanity lies is a dividing issue. But continuing to ignore those forced to flee to caves in the Nuba Mountains is surely itself a crime against our own humanity. Regardless of who is responsible, this should not be a conflict that goes unreported and ignored, with the lessons learned forgotten, just as they have been in Rwanda and Srebrenica.