Sudan is Africa’s largest country and has been at war with only a brief reprieve (1971-1982) since its
independence from Great Britain in 1956. With power centralized in the north around its capital Khartoum and
natural resources concentrated in the South, Sudan is further divided by religion, ethnicity, tribal differences, and
economic disparities. Lasting over two decades, the second civil war between the North and South resulted in the
deaths of an estimated 2 million people and displaced 4 million others. An on-going conflict in the western region
of Darfur was marked by a period of intensive, systematic targeting of the civilian populations from the Fur,
Zaghawa, and Masaalit ethnic groups. In 2004, the Museum issued a genocide emergency in response to this
Today, Sudan’s entire civilian population faces enormous threats from continuing and potentially new violence.
The country’s future is at stake with an upcoming referendum on southern independence (2011), as stipulated in
the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the civil war in 2005. With continued disputes over
borders and resources, in addition to the challenges of creating new political systems in both the north and the
south, the prospect of separation is seeded with potential sources of conflict. This major political event will take
place amid ongoing conflict in Darfur, sporadic incidents of violence in the South, uncertainty about the status of
key transitional regions between the north and south, and rumblings of discontent in the east. Half of Darfur’s six
million people are dependent on a precarious international aid effort, as displacement and insecurity continue.
The Museum’s warning for Sudan stems from the Sudanese government’s established capacity and willingness to
commit genocide and related crimes against humanity. This is evidenced by actions the government has taken in
the western region of Darfur, the Nuba Mountains, and the South that include:
• Use of mass starvation and mass forcible displacement as a weapon of destruction;
• Pattern of obstructing humanitarian aid;
• Harassment of internally displaced persons;
• Bombing of hospitals, clinics, schools, and other civilian sites;
• Use of rape as a weapon against targeted groups;
• Employing a divide-to-destroy strategy of pitting ethnic groups against each other, with enormous loss of
• Training and supporting ethnic militias who commit atrocities;
• Destroying indigenous cultures;
• Enslavement of women and children by government-support militias;
• Impeding and failing to fully implement peace agreements.
While rebel groups in the south and Darfur have also committed abuses, the Sudanese government, led by Omar
Al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity,
bears primary responsibility for atrocities against and continued danger to civilians.
An entrenched ruling elite
Since independence in 1956, Sudan’s ruling class has justified its power with an ideology that favors the Arabic-
speaking and Arabized elite in the capital Khartoum over populations from the nation's more culturally,
religiously, and linguistically diverse regions. While often described as a country split along a north-south axis,
which contains some truth, the concentration of power and wealth is divided between the center and peripheries.
War between the north and south (1955 – 1972)
From 1924-1956, the British had treated the north and south as two separate entities. The first Sudanese civil
war (1955-1972) erupted on the eve of independence, prompted by angry southerners who had been promised
and then denied regional autonomy. The fighting resulted in the death of half a million people, mostly civilians,
and forced hundreds of thousands to flee from their homes. In 1972, the Addis Ababa Agreement negotiated
peace between the Southern Sudan Liberation Movement and Khartoum. The peace deal included power-sharing
agreements, security guarantees, and political and economic autonomy for the South.
A military coup and intensified fighting (1989 – 2005)
In an attempt to quiet critics in the north and consolidate his power, Sudanese President Jaafar al-Nimieri
introduced new legal measures in 1983 that abolished southern governing autonomy. Nimieri returned power to
Khartoum, declared Arabic the official language, and imposed Sharia law over the entire country. In response,
southerners mobilized around the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), led by Dr. John Garang. Rather
than fight for southern independence, the SPLA posited that Sudan needed to be transformed into a multi-racial,
multi-lingual, multi-religious, and multi-ethnic state.
An elected government failed to resolve the conflict, as Islamists gained the upper hand. On June 30, 1989,
Brigadier General Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir came to power in a military coup at the head of a National
Islamist Front (NIF) government. The NIF intensified the war with the South.
Armed conflict in the west (2003 – present)
When the western region of Darfur experienced increasingly violent internal disputes over access to land and
power in the 1990s, the Sudanese government responded by rewarding and arming local leaders who shared its
ideology. Just as a negotiated agreement ended the war between the north and south, fighting began in Darfur
when men from the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit ethnic groups created the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and
attacked a government airfield on April 25, 2003. Another rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM),
joined the fight against the Sudanese government armed forces.
In response to the April 2003 rebel attack, the Sudanese government began recruiting local militias and
transforming them into semi-regularized forces known as the Janjaweed. These militias had personal interests in
gaining access to land inhabited by civilians from the same groups as the rebels: Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit.
Acts of Violence
The Sudanese government led by Omer al- Bashir and the National Islamist Front (NIF) has governed over war in
the south and west. The conflicts produced several peaks of violence against civilians: militia raids into Bahr al
Ghazal, 1986-89; the Nuba Mountains jihad of 1992; the oilfields clearances of the late 1990s; and genocide in
Darfur 2003 – 2005.
In the south, the primary victims were the Dinka and Nuer peoples and the Nuba in central Sudan. Fighting in
1991-92 between factions of the SPLA also caused significant civilian losses and displacement. In Darfur, the
primary victims were the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit.
In both the south and west, the Sudanese government established a pattern of assaults against civilians, killing,
torturing, raping and displacing millions. Additionally, its forces have destroyed entire villages, food and water
supplies, and other non-military targets. It has used a divide-to-destroy strategy that pits ethnic groups against
each other, while arming and supporting local militias.
In the South, the government tolerated the taking of slaves, along with other booty, by Arab tribal militias that
raided villages in the south and the Nuba Mountains. It also used religion to spur violence, justifying the
persecution of and attacks against Christians, followers of indigenous religions, and Muslims who rejected the
government's extreme form of Islam. In Darfur, it has used ethnicity to increase and justify violence.
The Sudanese government used starvation as a weapon. It attacked civilian food production and supplies, then
obstructed international relief. This strategy decimated the Nuba people of central Sudan. In 1998, the
government and its proxies were the primary agents of a famine in southern Sudan, which endangered millions
and killed tens of thousands, mostly Dinka. The consequences of the government's actions were, however,
worsened by food diversion by the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and some local chiefs. In Darfur,
the government’s forced displacement and obstruction of aid resulted in the deaths of at least 200,000 people
between 2003-2005. The government has also obstructed aid to vulnerable populations in response to
Targeted civilian populations have been forcibly displaced by the government throughout the country. In the
south, this practice accelerated when oil was discovered under key contested areas. In Darfur, at least 2.5 million
people remain displaced and vulnerable to further government manipulations. Reliant on inadequate supplies of
international aid, this displaced population is unable to return home because of on-going conflict.
Responses varied to the war in the South and to genocide and conflict in Darfur.
On March 31, 2005, the UN Security Council referred the case of Darfur, Sudan, to the International Criminal
Court (ICC), a permanent court created in 1998 to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
On March 4, 2009, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced its historic decision to issue an arrest
warrant charging Sudanese President Bashir with five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war
crimes for his leadership role in orchestrating the conflict in Darfur.
To the war in the South
The international policy responses to the conflict in Sudan (1985-2005) varied greatly over the twenty years of
the conflict, affected by the Cold War, multiple conflicts and regime changes in neighboring countries, and other
shifting geopolitical and economic interests. The governments of neighboring Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt, Libya,
Chad, Uganda, and Kenya all played significant roles. Key players among the broader international community
included the U.S., UK, Islamic nations, and China. Sudan's support for Iraq during the first Gulf War and various
radical Islamist movements (including hosting Osama Bin Laden from 1992-1996) resulted in increased isolation
from western countries. In 1993, the U.S. placed Sudan on its list of state sponsors of terrorism and imposed
sanctions in 1997.
A peace process for southern Sudan, sponsored by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development
and mediated by Kenyan General Lazaro Sumbeiywo, gained momentum with the signing of a framework for
peace in July 2002 by the Government of Sudan and the SPLM. The United States, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands
and the United Kingdom increased their engagement in the peace process after 2001. The Comprehensive Peace
Agreement (CPA) was signed by the government and the SPLM on January 9, 2005. It ended the two-decade war
and established parameters for a new unified government.
Beginning in April 1989, Operation Lifeline Sudan was set up following a devastating famine in Southern Sudan -
the result of drought and the civil war - which killed an estimated 250,000 people in 1988. The consortium
included three United Nations agencies, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and 40 non-governmental
organizations. Although it saved countless lives, the system was manipulated by both sides in the war, which
limited access to suffering refugees and siphoned off aid.
Following the signing of the CPA, the UN Security Council authorized the establishment of the United Nations
Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) for a period of seven years. Deployed across Sudan, the 10,000-strong peacekeeping
force was unable to prevent a recurrence of fighting between the government army and SPLA soldiers in oil-rich
Abyei on the North-South border.
To genocide and conflict in Darfur
With mounting pressure from public advocacy groups a wide array of measures was deployed in response to
violence in Darfur.
Print journalists played a central role in bringing the story of violence in Darfur to the general public early in
2004. Bolstered by public interest, editors kept reporters on the scene in Darfur and their stories on the pages of
In September 2004, the U.S. government declared the conflict in Darfur a "genocide." While the United Nations,
the African Union, and the European Union disagreed that genocide had occurred, they all accused the Sudanese
government and its allied militias of committing crimes against humanity.
The African Union, of which Sudan is a member, has pressured the Sudanese government and Darfurian rebel
movements to allow humanitarian access to civilians and to negotiate a peaceful solution.
Most of the deaths in Darfur resulted from malnutrition and exposure after civilians were forcibly displaced into
the harsh desert environment. A massive aid effort that began in 2003 saved countless lives and stemmed the
death toll. As the conflict continued, however, humanitarian aid workers themselves increasingly became targets
As part of a 2004 agreement between the Sudanese government and the Darfurian rebels, the African Union (AU)
sent in soldiers mandated to protect unarmed ceasefire monitors. The ceasefire was not honored and, when
civilians came under attack, AU soldiers often were not present or provided limited protection.
On December 31, 2007, after protracted negotiations with the Sudanese government, the AU and the United
Nations formed a joint force with a stronger mandate to protect civilians, but undermanned and ill-equipped, its
presence has been inadequate to change the situation on the ground.