The country has been engaged in violent struggle for most of its existence. In 2003, it emerged from a 21-year internal armed conflict between the Sudanese Government and non-state armed groups in the south, which is said to have cost the lives of 1.5 million people. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement, the largest non-state armed group, provides for a high degree of autonomy for the south (see Peace treaties
section). The region will also share oil revenue equally with the north.
Most recent attention has focused on Darfur (see below), but elsewhere in the country efforts continued to implement the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). A report in July 2007 by the International Crisis Group (ICG), however, claimed that the CPA was being "extensively undermined, primarily by the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). While international attention has focused on Darfur, albeit without much success, Sudan's other brewing conflicts and the crucial implementation of the CPA are being largely ignored." According to David Mozersky, the ICG’s Horn of Africa Project Director, "If the CPA fails – which is increasingly likely – Sudan can be expected to return to full-scale war, with devastating consequences for the entire region."
While the government and southern rebels were negotiating for peace, fighting broke out in the western region of Darfur in early 2003 when non-state armed groups seeking greater autonomy began an insurrection. Pro-government Arab militias were accused of carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Arab groups in the region. An African Union peacekeeping force was deployed in the Darfur region, and then in 2007 the UN Security Council authorised a "hybrid" UN/African Union force, UNAMID. In November 2007, however, the UN warned that the peacekeeping mission in Darfur might fail unless it received adequate support.
In April 2008, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, told the UN Security Council that the situation inside Darfur had only worsened in the past twelve months, despite the efforts of the international community. Mr. Holmes said as many as 300,000 people were estimated to have died in Darfur since early 2003. This figure included deaths from disease, malnutrition and reduced life expectancy, as well as from direct combat. In addition to the death toll, more than 2.7 million people had been displaced by the fighting, the vast majority still living within the arid region in the west of the country. Around 260,000 refugees had fled to neighbouring Chad.
A Commission of Inquiry set up by the UN Security Council in 2004 considered allegations that war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed during the conflict. Subsequently arrest warrants were issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for a number of Sudanese Government officials and the head of the so-called Janjaweed (see International judicial decisions section). The Government refused to extradite the accused to The Hague for trial. The first Sudanese indictee, Bahr Idriss Abu Garda, a Darfur non-state armed group member, accused in relation to an attack against African Union peacekeepers, appeared before the ICC on 18 May 2009. Additional suspects surrendered in June 2010.
The conflict in Darfur has also strained relations between Sudan and Chad, to the west. Both countries have accused each other of cross-border incursions. There have been fears that the Darfur conflict could lead to a wider, regional war. In early May 2008, one of the armed groups in Darfur launched an assault
on the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. The attack by the Justice and Equality Movement
(JEM) was repelled, with the government calling for JEM to be listed as a terrorist group
and blaming also Chad for its alleged support for the group. Chad denied the charges and closed its border, claiming Sudan was planning an attack. In 2010, JEM announced
it was boycotting peace talks with the government, accusing it of launching new raids. There were reports
of peace talks again in 2011 and in 2012, a JEM splinter group announced
its interest in signing the Doha Document for Peace.
A surge in government-led attacks was reported in late 2010 - early 2011 and the region remained isolated from aid workers and from the African Union/UN mission. Despite waning international attention, attacks against civilians continue in Darfur.
Further reading: "Darfur in the Shadows: The Sudanese Government's Ongoing Attacks on Civilians and Human Rights", Human Rights Watch, 5 June 2011. (See also International other section)
In October 2006, a peace agreement was signed between the Government of Sudan and the Eastern Sudan Front (an alliance of the Beja Congress and Free Lions rebel groups) to resolve a conflict in the Eastern states (Red Sea, Gedarif, and Kassala). The conflict was said to have resulted from the dire economic and social conditions and political marginalization in the region. For nine years, the Eastern Front had waged a low-intensity war against the Government in Khartoum to protest against this state of affairs.
Problems with the implementation of the CPA intensified in May 2008, when fighting broke out between northern and southern forces in the disputed oil-rich town of Abyei. In early June 2008, the International Crisis Group had said that the Abyei Conflict threatened to escalate into full-scale war, while the UN Regional Co-ordinator for South Sudan had commented that the country was "on the brink". To reduce tensions, President Al-Bashir and southern leader Salva Kiir agreed to seek international arbitration to resolve the dispute over Abyei. The Permanent Court of Arbitration rendered its decision on 22 July 2009. Nevertheless, the neighbouring countries continue in disagreement over the border region, with a referendum for the residents of Abyei to decide whether to join south or north having been delayed over voter eligibility.
Reports surfaced in March 2011 of violence between armed groups belonging to the Misseriya ethnic group and the predominantly Dinka Ngok police and security forces in the contested north-south border region of Abyei. Abyei had witnessed continuing violence since a referendum on the future of the oil-producing region had failed to go ahead in January.
Violence in May 2011 displaced 100,000 people in the region, virtually Abyei's entire population. According to Amnesty International,
Civilians started to flee Abyei on 20 May 2011, as armed clashes erupted between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), and the Sudan’s People Liberation Army (SPLA) and Southern Sudan Police Service (SSPS). Following an attack on 19 May on a convoy of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), which was transporting SAF members in Dokura (north of Abyei town), SAF bombed and shelled SPLA/SSPS positions and other locations and took control of the area.
Armed confrontations spread involving SAF, Popular Defence Forces (PDF) and SAF-backed armed militias from the nomad Arab Misseriya community on one side, and members of the SPLA and SSPS and some armed Dinka Ngok youths on the other side. The confrontations and attacks caused the flight en masse of the Dinka Ngok population. At the same time the Government of Sudan unilaterally dissolved the Abyei Administration.
During and immediately after the clashes, Misseriya militias, acting alongside PDF and with the support and complicity of SAF, systematically looted and burned down the inhabitants’ homes and properties in Abyei town, the region’s capital, and in surrounding villages. The looting and burning continued for days, while SAF was in full control of the area, and in the presence of UN peacekeepers.
Also according to Amnesty International, citing former UNMIS staff, Abyei town was overrun by T-55 tanks and multiple-rocket launchers and artillery shells were fired, with an unconfirmed number of people (both civilians and fighters) killed. Homes were charred and looted.
Landmines remain a problem in Abyei, with the UN decrying the fact that "despite engagement with the Governments of the Sudan and South Sudan by UNISFA, neither party has provided maps of mine locations." Clashes persist along the South Sudan/Sudan border.
Further reading: "The Crisis in Abyei", Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment - Facts & Figures, April 2011. The Small Arms Survey is conducting an ongoing human security baseline assessment of the problems from small arms and light weapons and their contribution to conflict in Sudan.
"Sudan: Breaking the Abyei Deadlock", International Crisis Group, Africa Briefing No. 47, 12 October 2007
In June 2011, fighting also erupted in Sudan's Southern Kordofan area where, according to the ICG, "many of the same ingredients exist that produced the vicious Darfur conflict". Ahmed Haroun, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, won the governorship there in May 2011.
The conflict pitts the largely Christian and pro-Sudan’s People Liberation Army (SPLA) Nuba people and northern government forces. Clashes remain intense in South Kordofan in 2012, and the US Envoy to South Sudan has warned that South Sudan might be dragged into the violence. Moreover, in August 2011, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watched warned of possible war crimes having been committed in the region.
Clashes have been reported in Heglig, where South Sudan controls an oil field. In April 2012, South Sudan accused the Sudanese army of invading Heglig with warplanes and artillery, though it claimed to have repelled the attack. On 15 April 2012, Sudan confirmed that its troops were fighting its neighbour in Heglig.
Further reading: "Sudan: Rights Record Deteriorates With New Conflicts: Attacks on Civilians, Repression Mar Post-Secession Period", Human Rights Watch, 22 January 2012, "Sudan's Southern Kordofan Problem: The Next Darfur?", International Crisis Group, Africa Report No. 145, 21 October 2008 and "The drift back to war: Insecurity and militarization in the Nuba Mountains", Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment (HSBA), Issue Brief No. 12, Small Arms Survey, August 2008
Last updated: 15 April 2012