BY SAMUEL TOTTEN
Tucked away in the hilly mid-section of Sudan lie the Nuba Mountains, an isolated region that was the target of genocidal actions by the Government of Sudan (GoS) in the early 1990s. This past week the Nuba Mountains has exploded in violence again, and many of the inhabitants fear that Sudanese President Omar al Bashir may be planning to complete what he left unfinished many years ago.
Left out of the referendum that resulted in southern Sudan severing its relationship with the north, the people of the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile region were, per the internationally brokered Comprehensive Peace Plan, forced to remain with the north. That left many in the Nuba Mountains devastated, frightened, and angry.
After all, boys and men from the Nuba Mountains fought for their freedom with the south during the 20-year war between the north and south, which resulted in some two million deaths. Not only that, but many fear that without the support of the south’s massive military might, the Nuba Mountains might, once again, face the scorn of the GoS, be it in the way of a scorched earth policy and/or forced starvation.
Exacerbating the entire situation was the recent “election” of Ahmed Haroun to the position of governor of South Kordafan, the state in which the Nuba Mountains is situated. Running against a popular former commander (Abdul Aziz) of the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army, the rebel group responsible for forcing the north/south referendum, Haroun, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on over 40 charges for crimes against humanity and war crimes for atrocities committed in Darfur, won what many in the Nuba Mountains perceive as a rigged election.
For the past six months the people of the Nuba Mountains have held one rally after another, sometimes numbering in the thousands, which is something to behold in such an isolated and sparsely populated area, calling on Haroun to give himself up to the ICC. Cognizant of such rallies, just three weeks ago Omar al Bashir flew to Kadugli, the capital of South Kordafan, and warned, “If the people here [meaning those in the Nuba Mountains] refuse to honor the results of the [gubernatorial] election, then we will force them back into the mountains and prevent them from having food just as we did before.” According to Article 2C of UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crimes of Genocide (UNCG), under certain conditions, purposely and systematically depriving a people of food constitutes genocide.
The people of the Nuba Mountains take his threat very seriously, for they know what he and his cohorts are capable of doing. Unfortunately, the threat turned into reality within a week’s time. Over the past two weeks the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have attacked one town after another in the Nuba Mountains, killing people indiscriminately and destroying farms and people’s tukuls (homes). Many people have fled into the mountains, just as they did in the 1990s. Having left behind their only means of livelihood and source of food, their farms, the Nuba Mountains people may be facing a repeat of the 1990s in which they had no resort but to scour the rocky land for leaves, roots, and weeds to eat.
Now is the time for the international community to act — before starvation becomes a fact of life and before the attacks morph into massive crimes against humanity and/or genocide.
The current and ongoing attacks sound very much like those that the GoS has carried out in Darfur for the past eight years. Ample proof of that is the following description of a recent attack on the Nuba Mountains’ village of Fet, which I just received from an individual, who must remained unnamed, residing in the heart of the Nuba Mountains: “At 8:00am, approximately 350 men dressed in green army uniforms attacked. Some civilians ran inside their homes for protection but when the attackers approached the homes they started burning them and they continued to burn people that were hiding inside their homes. One of the first houses attacked was burned with three women locked inside. One of the women was pregnant. As the civilians were running away they were shot. The attackers burned everything in site (sic).” While this all-day attack was carried out, the national police, SAF troops and national security troops looked on and did nothing. In fact, “it is reported that the forces were ordered not to shoot.”
The most recent update I received today was ominous: “More and more voices on the ground are now describing this as ‘ethnic cleansing’ and comparing it to the genocide which took place in the Nuba Mountains in the early 1990s. Urgent international response is critical!”
While the ongoing crisis in Darfur, which the U.S. Government in 2004 deemed to be genocide, and the recent referendum that resulted in the south splitting from the north, thus creating the new nation of South Sudan, have been spotlighted by the international media and various human rights campaigns, the crises in the Nuba Mountains have largely gone unnoticed. That must change, and now!
Samuel Totten is a genocide scholar based at 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.