Crimes Against Humanity and Potential Genocide in Nuba Mountains
Samuel Totten

Issue 8, Winter 2011
Readers who want to understand the various identities in the huge area of Sudan and its neighbors will find a Guide and maps provided by the author along with this article.

Omar al Bashir, the president of the Government of Sudan (GoS), is at it again: carrying out a scorched earth policy via ground troops, bombings by air, and routing tens of thousands of people from their villages into the wilds of the surrounding desert and mountains. This time it is in the state of South Kordofan.

When one considers the two million people who perished during the 20 year (1984-2004) civil war between north and south Sudan, the GoS' genocidal actions against the Nuba Mountains in the 1990s, the genocide perpetrated by the GoS in Darfur throughout the first decade of 2000, which has resulted in an estimated 400,000 plus dead, and the recent killings in the Nuba Mountains, it is impossible not to consider Omar al Bashir a serial mass killer.

After fighting side by side with the south against al Bashir throughout the 1990s, the Nuba believed that they would be included in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ultimately provided the people of the south with the opportunity to determine their future  -- that is, to remain with Sudan or establish an independent state. The south, of course, chose to create its own state, South Sudan. It is well known that the Nuba Mountains people did not, and do not, wish to remain part of the north and thus under the dictatorship of al Bashir. That has raised al Bashir's ire, and the people are now paying a price for voicing their preference.

Not only are the Nuba sick and tired of being discriminated against and disenfranchised on almost all fronts, but they are now fearful of retribution. They know that al Bashir has looked askance at their actions during the long north-south war.

Only masochists would willingly live under such a dictatorship. The people of the Nuba Mountains are not blind, deaf and dumb for they know what happens to those in the periphery (all those residing outside of the riverine valley, e.g., Khartoum and its vicinity) who demand an end to discrimination and disenfranchisement and/or their independence.

As the new state of South Sudan was about to be formally welcomed into the community of nations, Omar al Bashir was seemingly intent to prove that he is still in absolute control of the land and people he continues to govern. Thus, when the people of South Kordofan refused to recognize the recent election of Ahmed Haroun as governor of South Kordofan, al Bashir threatened to deal with the people the way he had in the 1990s: destroy their farms, force the people into the mountains, and starve them to death.

 Not only do many people in South Kordofan question the fairness of the election but the legitimacy of even allowing Haroun, who is wanted by the ICC on over 40 charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes for the atrocities committed in Darfur, to run for state office.

Upon the aforementioned threat, former members of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) who reside in South Kordofan donned their old uniforms. When al Bashir ordered them to remove them, the former rebels refused. al Bashir reacted as he frequently does, with mass violence. Such actions by al Bashir, who is wanted by the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide for the atrocities perpetrated in Darfur, no longer shocks anyone in Sudan.

At the end of the first week in June, GoS troops began what can only be described as a scorched earth policy that has resulted in the killing of innocent civilians and the depopluation of entire towns and villages. For ten long weeks the bombing of villages and towns by Antonovs and MIGS and ground attacks by troops wreaked havoc. As people fled their villages by the thousands, most sought sanctuary in the caves and crevasses of the Nuba Mountains. Still others crossed over into South Sudan where they ended up in makeshift refugee camps. Those in the mountains were left without access to food or water. Many fear a repeat of the 1990s genocidal attack against the Nuba by the GoS, during which an untold number of people ended up starving to death as they hid in the mountains fearing sure death if they showed their faces out in the open.

The people of the Nuba Mountains harbor a very real fear in their hearts that they may be facing what Darfur has suffered over the past eight years: a scorched earth policy that will leave their homes, villages, and farms burned out wastelands littered with the bodies of men, women, children and babies.

Reports emanating from the Nuba Mountains attest to the horrors that have been visited upon the people, the vast majority of whom have not picked up arms and who simply wish to lead peaceful lives. What follows are the words of Nuba Mountains citizens and international humanitarian staff, the latter of whom have bravely chosen to remain in the region despite the high risk of being killed:

  • "In many villages nobody is left. People are in the mountains hiding and seeking safety from the bombs. Fear of severe food shortage."
  • "SAF [Sudanese Armed Forces] planted mines all around Kadugli [the capital of South Kordofan]."
  • "In Kadugli, SAF carried out door to door searches for anyone suspected of being loyal to SPLM  -- pulling people out of the UN compound and executing them while UN peacekeepers looked on." 
  • "UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan] has lost credibility with locals who believe the UN troops from Egypt are collaborating with the north, are collecting two salaries, one from the UN and one from Khartoum, and are Arabs who hate blacks."

On June 12, 2011, two mass graves, with over a thousand bodies in one of them, were discovered in Kadugli, South Kordofan in Sudan. It is suspected by many that the deaths resulted from  the vicious attacks launched by the GoS against the blacks in the region. Certainly, many were the victims of GoS henchmen who carried out their door-to-door search in Kadugli for members and supporters of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement.

The same day, in the town of Dilling, other GoS thugs went door-to-door carrying out the same sort of search and destroy mission, this time slitting the throats of their victims. The blood is literally flowing from the hands of the GoS yet again.

On June 14, 2011, the town of Kauda, in the heart of the Nuba Mountains, was pounded with bombs from MIGs and Antonov bombers. People were killed, tukuls (mud homes with conical grass roofs) were demolished, and the only airfield in the area was utterly destroyed. Aircraft are no longer able to land to offload food, medical supplies, clean water, or fly in humanitarian international aid workers. This has been repeated all over the Nuba Mountains

All of this leads one to wonder: Where are UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide Francis Deng, U.S. President Barack Obama, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and National Security Council Advisor Samantha Power?

All, sadly but not surprisingly, seem to be a lot more apt at decrying the silence of others in the face of genocide, making grand gestures, and spewing words versus taking action.

As recently as April 7, 2011, during the UN's observation of the annual day of remembrance for the victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Ki-Moon asserted, "The only way to truly honour the memory of the more than 800,000 people who perished in Rwanda…is to ensure the such tragedies never occur again."  One wonders what is Ki-Moon waiting for as the Nuba Mountains continue to be pulverized.

The mandate of the UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide is  "to collect information on situations where there may be a risk of genocide or mass atrocities." While it is stated that "due to the sensitive nature of the mandate, most of the Office's work remains outside of the public eye," a caveat also reads:  "When the Special Adviser assesses that making his concerns public will reduce the risk of genocide or mass atrocities in a specific situation, or advance the cause of peace and stability, he does so."  How much longer do we have to wait for Mr. Deng to decide that the tragedy of the Nuba Mountains merits his going public? Each week that goes by, many more innocent people are likely to be killed.

In 2004, in a speech about Darfur, then Senator Barack Obama declared that the United States "cannot, in good conscience, stand by and let the genocide continue." Continuing, Obama asserted that the U.S. "should freeze the assets of the Sudanese government, its leaders and business affiliates; outlaw arms sales and transfers to Sudan; and prohibit the purchase of Chinese oil."  What will it take for President Obama to step up to the plate and act upon the suggestions of Senator Obama? Or, now that he is president, are those suggestions not as sagacious as he once thought they were?

On July 11, 2010, speaking on the 15th anniversary of the genocide of 8,000 Muslim boys and men at Srebrenica, Hilary Clinton declared, "We are duty-bound - to the victims, to their surviving family members, and to future generations - to prevent such atrocities from happening again. Our common faith in the value of freedom and peace unifies us and drives us to act." Does that promise not carry over to the Nuba peoples who are now, at the very least, suffering crimes against humanity?

Finally, Samantha Power, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of "The Problem From Hell": America in the Age of Genocide, asked, with great indignation, the following questions in an article ("Bystanders to Genocide") she wrote for The Atlantic Magazine: "Why did the United States not do more for the Rwandans at the time of the killings? Did the President really not know about the genocide, as his marginalia suggested? Who were the people in his Administration who made the life-and-death decisions that dictated U.S. policy? Why did they decide (or decide not to decide) as they did? Were any voices inside or outside the U.S. government demanding that the United States do more? If so, why weren't they heeded? And most crucial, what could the United States have done to save lives?"  We could, and should, ask the very same questions today of the White House and the UN about the crimes against humanity being perpetrated in the Nuba Mountains. How, one wonders, would Ms. Power herself respond to such?

The United Nations, individual nations, and scholars are expert at coming up with potential "solutions" to mass killing  -- that is, ways to head off such killings, to prevent conflict from erupting into crimes against humanity and genocide. Where they fail, time and again, though, is in putting such putative solutions into action. In other words, the international community either does not implement the purposed solutions or does so in a haphazard and ineffective manner. The end result is often death, in the thousands, and sometimes in the hundreds of thousands, of innocent people.

Promises not backed with action are a joke. Contemptible jokes. Those, however, who count on the promises don't laugh; rather, they suffer horribly from fear, anxiety, a lack of food and water, rape, and, not infrequently, death.

Just six years ago, the international community celebrated the new concept of The Responsibility to Protect (R2P).  And over the past five years it has been touted as, if not the panacea to inaction, something hopeful.

Sadly, right now it seems as if the international community does not care one whit about the fate of the people of South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains. So much for idle talk, idle promises, and idle concepts.

At the website of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Project, the following rationale is provided for R2P:
Recognizing the failure to adequately respond to the most heinous crimes known to humankind, world leaders made a historic commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity at the United Nations (UN) 2005 World Summit. This commitment, entitled the Responsibility to Protect, stipulates that:

1. The State carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

2. The international community has a responsibility to assist States in fulfilling this responsibility.

3. The international community should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State fails to protect its populations or is in fact the perpetrator of crimes, the international community must be prepared to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.
The goals and objectives are lofty, and admirable. But, words only go so far. Put another way, the words do the victims of mass atrocities no good.

One hopes that the international community has attempted to "use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these crimes." But then again, that is not a given. Indeed, it is hardly evident since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has seemingly done little more than wring his hands over the matter. As for U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman, he has waffled left and right when confronted with the facts of the atrocities that have been perpetrated against the civilians of South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains.

On August 15th, the UN issued a major report on the conflict in which it asserted that the Government of Sudan might have committed war crimes. Additionally, it stated that while both sides were guilty of having perpetrated atrocities, the GoS military's actions were "especially egregious" (and included aerial bombing and shelling of civilian villages and summary executions).

In August, the fighting tapered off as a result of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. Be that as it may, reports of periodic bombings by Antonovs were reported in the vicinity of Kadugli.  Then, on August 23rd, Omar al Bashir declared a two-week ceasefire in South Kordofan. It did not last long, though, for during the first week of September bombings by Antonovs increased in number, as did the deaths of civilians as a result of the aerial attacks. Intent on doing as it wishes in South Kordofan, the GoS barred all journalists and diplomats from entering the area. The UN force that was already based in South Kordofan has also been restricted to certain areas, making it nearly impossible for the UN troops/mission to provide daily updates on the situation across the state. Typically, the Government of Sudan has also banned foreign aid organizations from entering South Kordofan, asserting that any aid provided to the people will be delivered by the Sudanese Red Crescent organization. The GoS, though, is notorious for making such statements cum promises and never coming through with the aid. It is simply another ploy to do additional harm to the targeted population.

Ultimately, the people in the Nuba Mountains prefer action to words. Who wouldn't?
As the world community watches in awe as the Arab Spring plays out in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria, Omar al Bashir is ravaging another region of Sudan. Taking advantage of the world community's inability to keep an eye on all parts of the globe, al Bashir continues to cavalierly flout international law with impunity.

Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, seems intent on joining an infamous pantheon of mass killers: Mehmet Talaat (Armenian Genocide), Hitler (Holocaust), Joseph Stalin (Manmade Famine in Ukraine and The Great Terror), Pol Pot (Cambodian genocide), and Mladic (Srebrenica). It is the world's job to prevent that.
If the international community truly believes in the promise of "Never Again," then now is the time to act. People in the Nuba Mountains are crying and dying. It is time we prevent al Bashir from butchering his people as if they were cattle. Stop the savagery now.

Grzyb, Amanda (August 4, 2011). International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) listserv.

Gerald Caplan and Amanda Grzyb authored an article in the Toronto Globe and Mail entitled "Is there enough political will to stop Sudan atrocities?"  which can be seen at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/second-reading/gerald-caplan/is-there-enough-political-will-to-stop-sudan-atrocities/article2117082/

Samuel Totten is an independent researcher, recently retired from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He served as one of the 24 investigators with the U.S. Atrocities Documentation Project in eastern Chad. His most recent book is "An Oral and Documentary History of the Darfur Genocide" (Praeger Security International, 2010). He was last in the Nuba Mountains in January 2011 conducting research for a new book, Genocide by Attrition in the Nuba Mountains.  Totten is a co-editor of the journal of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), "Genocide Studies and Prevention," and among his many works he co-edited the outstanding two-volume "Dictionary of Genocide."


SUDAN: Sudan is the largest country in Africa.  It is located in northeast Africa. Sudan. It is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its government is a dictatorship, and it is governed by fundamentalist Muslims. For over 20 years (1984-2004) Sudan was engaged in a north-south war, with the people in the south demanding more independence and more rights. Some two million perished as a result of the war. In 2005 the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed, and part and parcel of the CPA was an agreement to allow the people in southern Sudan to vote in a referendum in 2011 whether they desired to remain part of Sudan or form its own nation. The referendum was overwhelmingly in favor of seceding from Sudan. This past summer, South Sudan became the newest nation to join the international community. Over the years, the Government of Sudan (GoS) has engaged in scorch early policies against numerous parts of Sudan, including the Nuba Mountains (late 1980s and the 1990s), Darfur (2003 to present), Nuba Mountains (June 2011 to present), and the Blue Nile (September 2011 to present). In each case, the people of the various regions demanded more freedom, more rights, and a greater say in the running of the country and each and every time the GoS' response has been outright murder.

Sudan's have also seen their fair share of dissent and violence over the years and as a result both weapons and violence have leached into Sudan. Sudan's neighbors are Egypt and Libya to the north, Ethiopia and Eritrea to the east, Chad and the Central African Republic to the west, and South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of the Congo to the south.

is the most recent state to join the international community. South Sudan gained its independence on July 9, 2011, and became a member state of the United Nations on July 14, 2011.
South Sudan's capital is Juba, a town that has exploded in size and population ever since the people of southern Sudan voted in a referendum and overwhelmingly voted in favor of seceding from Sudan.
South Sudan is bordered by Kenya to the southeast, Ethiopia to the east; Uganda to the south; Central African Republic to the West, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the southwest, and Sudan to the north.

Editor's Note:  At this writing, we did not have a map that identifies South Sudan as such but the area described here can be located on the maps accompanying this article.

is one of the fifteen states of Sudan. Its southern border is the demarcation point between Sudan and South Sudan. At the hear of the state is the Nuba Mountains. The capital of South Kordofan is Kadugli. The governor of South Kordofan is Ahmad Haroun, who is wanted on over 40 charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for atrocities perpetrated in Darfur. Prior to becoming governor, Haroun served as the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs for the Government of Sudan, and in that position oversaw the conflict in Darfur.

are located in the state of South Kordofan in Sudan. In the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s the Government of Sudan (GoS) carried out a scorched earth policy in the Nuba Mountains, purportedly in an attempt to squelch the efforts of those Nuba men who had joined the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement/Armey (SPLM/A) and fought with the south during the north/south war. In the 1990s, the Nuba were subjected to what scholar Alex de Waal, a Harvard University-based researcher, ahs referred to as genocide by attrition. Deprived of access to their farms, the Nuba were forced to scrounge for anything edible to eat (including roots, leaves off trees, bushes), which resulted in mass starvation.

When the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005 by the north and south, thus brining an end to the 20 year war that took some two millions lives, the Nuba Mountains were left out of it. The Nuba Mountains continue to be governed by Khartoum, which the people of the Nuba Mountains want no part of.

In June 2011, the GoS attacked South Kordofan, and the Nuba Mountains, in a purported attempted to stanch a rebellion. Between June and September 2011 some 80,000 people have fled their villages and into the Nuba Mountains seeking sanctuary from the bombings by Antonov bombers and MIGs, and ground attacks by GoS military troops and their hired militia.

Click here for larger versions of UNHCR map and Sudan overview map.

See also a commentary/op-ed piece in the Globe and Mail on August 2, 2011 by Gerald Caplan and Amanda Grzyb re: GOS attacks on civilian areas in the Nuba Mountains.  The article is based on the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) resolution and includes working suggestions by Sam Totten.  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/second-reading/gerald-caplan/is-there-enough-political-will-to-stop-sudan-atrocities/article2117082/
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