A child holds up bullets collected from the ground in Rounyn, a village about 15 kilometres from Shangil Tobaya, North Darfur
By now, due to the actions of various governments, international organizations, charitable groups, and Hollywood celebrities, the world knows about the genocide perpetrated by the Sudanese government against the people of Darfur. Not only does the world know — it did something about it. After coordinated efforts by the United Nations, the African Union, and the United States, the killing stopped, and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir became the first sitting world leader to be indicted on charges of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. The Second Sudanese Civil War ended with a peace agreement that eventually resulted in the founding of the world’s newest nation, South Sudan, in 2011. After the tragic failure of the international community to put a stop to the ethnic cleansing that took place in Rwanda two decades ago, global efforts in Darfur took on a special symbolism and importance.
But the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement was not the end of the story. The option of creating South Sudan was the central part of that peace agreement, and the founding of the new republic after it was approved in a referendum divided Sudan into a majority-Muslim and relatively oil-poor nation in the north, and a majority-Christian and relatively oil-rich nation in the south. This division, however, was anything but a clean split.
While Sudan has little in terms of actual oil reserves, what it does have are oil refineries and seaports, both of which the land-locked South Sudan needs in order to make any profit from its oil. Needless to say, these circumstances have kept the two countries very close—too close for some in the south, whose leaders are primarily from the Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). This group has spent the better part of the last 20 years seeking either regional autonomy or outright independence from Khartoum.
Unfortunately, peace did not last long in either of the two Sudans. The vaunted and hard-fought peace agreement left much work unfinished, and the afterglow of South Sudan’s birth couldn’t last forever. After about three years of negotiating some of the difficult but necessary organizational and political questions that all new states face, infighting among the new nation’s top government officials resulted in renewed violence in 2013. South Sudan has, according to international observers, been in a state of civil war for over a year now. The border between the two Sudans is still disputed, and tensions between the two nations at times erupt into cross-border skirmishes. However, the ongoing border dispute and the fact that a man indicted on charges of crimes against humanity remains in power are not the most pressing issues in the two Sudans at the moment.
The Nuba Mountains in the south-central region of South Kordofan, Sudan, are home to about 50 ethnic groups that are collectively referred to as the Nuba. The majority of the people there were (and still are) more sympathetic to the SPLA than to Bashir’s regime, but quite naturally valued their connection with their homes tremendously. After the negotiations that drew the border between the two Sudans resulted in the Nuba remaining in Sudanese territory and the “popular consultations” that had been stipulated in the part of the 2006 agreement concerning their future failed to materialize, the Nuba pressed Khartoum for reform. Their requests were answered by gunfire.
Since 2011, the Sudanese regime has been engaging in many of the same practices in the Nuba Mountains and the rest of South Kordofan that it perpetrated in Darfur a decade ago. The Sudanese military makes no distinctions between military and civilian targets; at times, schools and hospitals are specifically targeted for aerial bombardment and artillery shelling. Regime forces seek to degrade rebel support through civilian atrocities and scorched-earth tactics. NGO workers, journalists, and other outside actors and observers are denied entry into the region from Sudanese territory. The brave few who are able to make it in and out of the region, those who serve as the world’s eyes and ears on the ground, do so at great personal risk, crossing through mountain passes that are under constant threat of regime attack.
Much of the world’s attention is focused on the crises in Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine. While it is right and entirely reasonable for them to cover these crises, which have dramatic humanitarian and geopolitical implications, coverage of them should not come at the continued expense of other important issues. Most global media outlets have a tendency to hyper-focus on one or two issues when they know they’re a boon for ratings, of which the crises involving ISIS, Ukraine, and Darfur are only a few examples. What remains perplexing is the fact that, whereas the genocide in Darfur became the focus of significant publicity, the crimes currently being committed in South Kordofan have received little to no such coverage even though they are essentially the same crimes being committed by the same regime. Perhaps it conflicts with the narrative of the West’s successful mediation in Darfur; perhaps the killing of citizens by their own governments has become so commonplace that it no longer shocks the world’s collective conscience. Perhaps we don’t have a collective conscience.
President Obama, in his justification for U.S. military intervention in the conflict in Libya, said that a column of tanks and armored personnel carriers would have committed a genocide against the civilian population of Benghazi had NATO not been called in to stop the advance of Gadhafi’s forces. Yet an estimated 250,000 Sudanese have fled from the violence carried out by the Bashir regime in the last four years to South Sudan, with more refugees expected after Bashir’s promise to finish the quelling of opposition groups in the country in time for another round of sham elections this April. Government forces are now massing across South Kordofan for what can only be a final push into remaining rebel towns, cities, and villages – at least, before the regime is able to go into the countryside and find the caves civilians have been forced to hide in. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind: the Nuba Mountains are not going to be the site of Sudan’s next genocide. They already are. The only question is whether this second act will end as the first one did: not with a resolution and finale, but with merely another intermission.