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Journalists are banned from the Nuba mountains. This makes it extremely difficult for International media to cover the war and it’s impact on civilians. Nuba Reports brings together local journalists with professional editors and mentors in order to produce verifiable and compelling dispatches from the front lines.
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Fighting broke out in June 2011 between Sudan’s government and Nuban rebels. Nuba Reports was founded by people living in the region after journalists and NGOs were banned. Our goal is to provide Sudan and the International community with credible and compelling dispatches from the front lines of this conflict and to illuminate the war’s impact on civilians. more

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Dear Readers,

This is our Sudan Insider, a bimonthly debrief from Nuba Reports that highlights important developments in Sudan and what they mean. Check out:

Primary School Bombing Latest in String of Civilian Attacks

What happened…

  • A government warplane on May 25 bombed a leading primary school in Kauda, Sudan, wounding a Kenyan teacher. The Sudan Sukhoi jet dropped two parachute bombs into the compound of the St. Vincent Primary School, damaging classrooms and library. (It is not the first time the school has been hit). The Troika members – Norway, the UK and the US – responded with a statement that they were “appalled” by recent Sudanese government bombings of civilians, including the one on the school.
  • Just days earlier, on May 17, an Antonov dropped 15 bombs on the rebel capital, Kauda, near the school injuring 60-year old Abbas Tamil. Eyewitnesses saw a drone surveying the area prior to the attack.
  • Over the past month, Sudan has significantly increased aerial attacks on civilians in the rebel-controlled Heiban County, South Kordofan state –where Kauda is located. According to Nuba Reports, Sudan has dropped 62 bombs in Heiban County in May.
  • On May 1, one bomb killed six children, aged 4 – 13 and wounded another civilian, sparking a national outcry protesting the incident. During the memorial service of the six children on May 23, another Sudanese jet dropped two bombs in the same area, wounding four more children and killing a 6-month old baby.
  • In late April, armed rebel movements, including the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, requested that the African Union assist them and mediate a six-month ceasefire agreement with the government.
  • The proposal was rejected by Khartoum. Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) Spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Khalifa Al-Shami claimed the government has successfully blockaded the rebels in the Nuba Mountains, implying a ceasefire would be redundant. In turn, SPLM-N Spokesman Arno Ngutulu cited the rejection as an example of the government’s unwillingness to sign onto a peace initiative instigated by the rebel movements.
  • Instead, the fighting has intensified in mid-May with almost constant shelling from both sides and aerial bombardments by SAF across the Nuba Mountains. Part of this intensity is linked to the government’s relocation in early May of roughly 6,000 Rapid Support Force paramilitary units to garrison bases in Kadugli, the capital of government-held South Kordofan, and El Obeid, the capital of North Kordofan.
  • One of the most intense battle scenes is taking place in Al Azrak town in Heiban County, between the SPLA-N and government forces. Both sides are shelling one another on a near daily basis. Since May 14, the SPLA-N has repelled attempts by the government to ship more forces and supplies to their troops in Al Azrak. These supplies are sorely needed by SAF since the impending rainy season will make roads impassable to the town. The conflict has displaced all civilians in Al Azrak town – that includes 10 surrounding villages. On May 28, SAF attacked nearby Guru and destroyed several buildings including the school, prompting a four- to five-hour battle before government troops retreated.
  • Since April, the government’s bombing campaign intensified across the Nuba Mountains, especially in civilian agricultural areas. In some cases, Sudan is using drones to survey civilian areas before bombing. In May so far, Nuba Reports confirmed 68 bombs dropped on civilian areas – all in Heiban County.

What it means…

The May 1 killing of six children in a bomb attack on Heiban town triggered an outpouring of protest across the country. Hundreds of Sudanese signed a petition calling for an end to the government bombing campaign against civilians in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. This is, sadly, not the first time Sudan’s air force has killed children in the Nuba Mountains – but it has sparked a national outcry not witnessed before. Sudan’s civil society appears to be emboldened after a series of nationwide university student protests demonstrating against the recent state-sponsored killings of two university students in two separate incidents in the country.

Rains have already started in the Nuba Mountains making roads increasingly impassable. The muddied roads may mean the end of the SAF Al Azrak offensive, among other offensives, effectively ending this year’s fighting season.

But the fact that land offensives are still taking place and aerial bombings on farmlands are ongoing at the onset of the rainy season may lead to severe food shortages across the region. The conflict has disrupted farmers planting at this crucial time period. Planting has largely been curbed in the fertile land surrounding Al Azrak, for instance, an area that traditionally provides food for the entire Heiban County.

A rough estimate based on interviews with chiefs and elders suggests roughly half the population of the Al Azrak region of 32,370 people are currently displaced. Women and children make up the highest numbers of those displaced, including from Al Azrak town where civilians were forced to flee without carrying any belongings. Many of those displaced who sought shelter in dry riverbeds and caves are now exposed due to rain flooding.

Crackdown on Students Continues after Protests

What happened…

  • At least 15 universities in Sudan (Khartoum University, Red Sea University, Kordofan University, Omdurman Al-Ahlia University, Al-Nileen University, Holy Quran University, Al-Imam Al-Hadi University, Al-Jazeera University, Sennar University, Dongola University, Shendi University, Kassala University, Kosti University, Nyala University, Al-Fashir University) took to the streets in a large wave of anti-government protests since mid April 2016. The protests have resonated across the country with the escalation of the crackdown from the government’s side leading to the death of two students.
  • Khartoum University students have protested for a month now following news that their university campus was sold to investors. In return, security agents closed down main streets in the capital and arrested dozens of students, leading to the indefinite closure of the university. Seventeen students have been suspended and security agents arrested nine of them from the office of the renowned lawyer, Nabil Adib, as they tried to seek legal redress to challenge their suspensions. Security forces raided Adib’s office and house, confiscating files and detaining two of his staff
  • Kordofan University and Omdurman Al-Ahlia University have been shut down indefinitely after security agents and ruling party-affiliated students shot dead two students on two separate occasions. Dozens of students have been killed in recent years, mostly from Darfur and the Nuba Mountains. Just two months before the last killings, a student at Al-Geneina University in West Darfur, Salah Gamar Al-Deen, was shot down during student protests.
  • Dozens of students from universities such as Khartoum University, Kordofan University, Dongola University and others have yet to be released. Two students from Omdurman Al-Ahlia University could face five years if charged with rioting under Article 67 of Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act.

What it means…

Historically student protests have instigated Sudan’s recent revolutions – the 1964 and the 1985 revolutions. For instance in 1964, the killing of one student, Al-Gorashi, triggered protests that led to the 1985 revolution. This explains why Khartoum has taken considerable measures to militarize pro-government students across Sudanese campuses leading to a high rate of violence witnessed in Sudan’s places of higher learning today.

The Sudanese government is trying to frame the student protests as an opposition-led initiative to create unrest in the center as it attempts to quell armed dissent in the peripheries. Using this pretext, the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) legislators plan to submit a new bill to ban political activities of rebel supporters in universities.

Sudan has not witnessed such massive, nationwide, demonstrations on university campuses since the 1995 student protests that led to the arrest of hundreds of students  (the ‘Sudan Revolts’ protests of September 2013 included student protesters, but took place  in neighborhoods not on campuses). The latest protests appear to have included a wider variety of students as well, netting participants from the mainstream student body in larger numbers than before; previously, student-led demonstrations were predominantly made up of politically affiliated student groups.

The repeated closure of universities detrimentally affects education in Sudan. University students that Nuba Reports spoke to said graduating now takes six to seven years due to intermittent closures, delaying their ability to find employment and placing further burdens on their families supporting them. Along with the current closure, a top-ranking institution within Sudan such as Khartoum University has been closed four times in the last four and a half years.

Sudan to UNAMID: Get Out

What happened…

  • On May 19 Sudan decreed the mandate of the hybrid United Nations and African Union peacekeeping in Darfur (UNAMID) would end in June. The decision follows several government meetings and announcements discussing an exit strategy for the mission. A tripartite working group including the Sudanese government, African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN) set up to develop an exit strategy for UNAMID visited El-Fasher in North Darfur earlier this month. The Security Council, however, decided in resolution 2228 to further discuss whether to extend UNAMID’s mandate after 30 June 2016, buying the hybrid mission some more time.
  • Officially, the mandate of UNAMID was expected to expire in June this year after a one-year extension in 2015. The closure takes place amidst ongoing violence in the region and massive displacement of civilians in the restive Jebel Marra area. An estimated 1,400 people fled fighting in the Jebel Marra area earlier this month – with over 10,000 IDPs in total from Jebel Marra currently displaced in camps in South Darfur.
  • Over 20 Sudanese civil society groups and leaders called for a renewal of UNAMID’s tenure in Sudan in March, according to a letter submitted to the AU Commission. The signatories of the letter fear UNAMID’s departure will exacerbate human rights violations and hide violations from the international community perpetrated by government forces.
  • It is not the first time Sudan has called for UNAMID’s exit. In 2014, the government pushed for UNAMID to leave after making inquiries into an alleged Sudanese troops mass rape of 200 women in Tabit village, northern Darfur. President Bashir had called UNAMID to exit the country in a press conference in October 2014, accusing the mission of supporting Darfur rebels.
  • In addition to pushing for a UNAMID exit, the Sudanese government has refused to renew the stay permit for the Head of Office of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Sudan, Ivo Freijsen – a “de facto expulsion.” It is the fourth time a senior U.N. official has been expelled from Sudan in the last two years, according to OCHA.

What it means…

Bashir may have personal reasons to reject UNAMID’s presence. The president associates UNAMID with the UN Security Council’s referral of the Darfur situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2005. This referral led to the war crime charges against him. Bashir has also made repeated pledges to “crush” the Darfur rebellion this year, relying heavily on an unruly militia, the Rapid Support Force, to carry this out. The ruling party are keen to cloak militia-related activity from the international community, especially since foreign relations with western actors appears to be improving with recent funding and support of government peace initiatives.

The peacekeeping mission has faced considerable criticism for being costly – with an annual budget of US$1.35 billion per year – and for failing to uphold its mandate to protect civilians. In 2013, for instance, the mission allegedly allowed an armed group to kidnap IDPs from a bus convoy they were meant to protect.

Sudan has routinely hampered UNAMID’s access to civilians. According to former UNAMID Spokesperson Aicha Al-Basri, the government refused the mission’s request for access 150 times in 2012 and 2014. South Africa, who has had UNAMID troops in Darfur since its establishment, withdrew its forces in April due to Sudanese government interference. Defence Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said Sudan had made it “impossible for our forces to protect the women and children of that country.”

According to several Nuba Reports interviews, many IDPs in Darfur oppose the exit since UNAMID represents one of the few international observers on the ground documenting the human rights violations taking place against them. Once UNAMID leaves, many fear the government will have free range to displace residents further in a bid for political and economic control of the vast western Sudan region.

Bashir’s Travel Immunity Vis-a-Vis the ICC Continues

What happened…

  • On May 12, President Omar Bashir travelled to Uganda to attend the fifth inauguration of incumbent President Yoweri Museveni in Kampala, once again defying an International Criminal Court warrant for atrocities committed in Darfur.  Uganda, a signature to the Rome Statute, had invited him with Sudan s First Vice-President Gen. Bakri Hassan and several other ministers received Bashir at the airport, according to Sudan’s state news agency.
  • This is not the only recent trip made by the ICC indicted president. Just two months earlier, Bashir flew to Indonesia to attend an Islamic summit and to Egypt for an investment forum. Bashir also visited Ethiopia recently following an earlier trip in January.
  • President Museveni actually announced Bashir’s presence during the inauguration and told heads of state: “We had supported the ICC initially thinking they were serious…but it is a bunch of useless people.” The remarks triggered U.S. Ambassador to Uganda, Deborah Malac, along with several European and Canadian diplomats to abruptly leave the ceremony. The move was described as “shaky and contradictory” by the Chargé d’affaires at Sudan’s embassy in Washington, Muawaia Osman, given that the United States is not a signatory to the Rome Statute.
  • Bashir has travelled over 75 times to 23 countries since the ICC arrest warrant was originally issued, seemingly without fear of prosecution. Eight of these countries are signatories to the Rome Statute. Sudan’s State Minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kamal Eddin, said the trip was successful for “showing the weakness of the so-called International Criminal Court in Africa,” according to a press statement.

What it means…

When the ICC warrant was originally issued, Bashir’s travels were greatly curbed due to international pressure and international protests by civil society groups who supported the international court. This has waned drastically in recent years due to several bodies’ and governments’ complicity in allowing Bashir’s travels.

The African Union (AU), in particular, has protected Bashir from arrest since the warrant’s inception: accusing the court of being a neo-colonialist tool since almost all of the court’s investigations have involved war crimes in Africa. This argument ignores a court list of preliminary investigations that is more geographically diverse, and the fact that local African prosecutors initiated all the cases except for Sudan and Libya.

In 2009, the AU signed a declaration expressing concern over Bashir’s indictment, derailing the Darfur peace process and another in 2010 stating the AU would not enforce the warrant against Bashir. By 2015, the AU called on the U.N. Security Council to suspend proceedings against the Sudanese president, urging them to withdraw the ICC referral. In April, the Sudanese government asked the AU to investigate potential political motives behind actions of the court’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

Western international pressure against the Sudanese president is also in decline. The European Union provided over 100 million Euros to Sudan in order to curb migration while Khartoum’s counter-terrorism pledges to fight ISIS are an attempt to appease the United States.

Bashir’s visit to Uganda signifies a thawing of relations between the two countries after a decade of strained relations. Bashir is accused of supporting the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, during the civil war with the former South Sudanese rebels as a countermeasure to Museveni’s support to South Sudan. The inaugural invitation to Kampala may have been triggered by Museveni’s trip last September to Khartoum to discuss joint efforts to bring stability in South Sudan.

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