The UN has concluded, after a four month investigation, that the South Sudan government (especially president Salva Kiir) was guilty of war crimes. This took the form of pro-government militias being told that as “payment” (and encouragement) for taking up arms to fight the rebels they could rape, loot and kill without restraint, at least when it came to civilians designated as pro-rebel. South Sudan soldiers were allowed to misbehave as well and during most of 2015 this led to thousands of rapes and murders plus widespread looting and property destruction. While the government and the rebels discouraged visits by outsiders (especially journalists or UN personnel) the UN investigators were able to interview hundreds of survivors in areas that had been fought over but were now quiet as well as many refugees from the fighting who were still too afraid to go home but were willing to relate their experiences. Senior UN officials are calling for formal war crimes charges against the president of South Sudan and other senior officials.
The government responded by accusing the UN of being biased and ignoring similar bad behavior by rebel forces. Nevertheless the investigators documented how the worst atrocities were committed by government forces and there is much evidence that this was because of government assurances that this sort of behavior was OK because the rebels were trying to destroy South Sudan and the government didn’t have the cash to pay the militias. Left unsaid was the fact that this sort of behavior has been common in the region for thousands of years. There is also the tribal rivalry angle, which still counts. The government forces are mainly Dinka while rebels are largely from smaller Zande, Jur and Moru tribes. The rebellion began in 2013 as disputes between armed tribesmen (some of them on the government payroll) that spiraled out of control. This came after South Sudan achieved independence from Sudan in 2005 after decades of ethnic and religious fighting between the largely Arab government and the black, and often Christian tribesmen in the south. The united many South Sudan tribes that normally fight each other. It was hoped that the experience of working together to drive out the Sudan government forces would last. It didn’t.
This is not the first time the UN has accused Sudanese leaders of war crimes. In 2009 the International Criminal Court (ICC) ordered the arrest of Sudan president al Bashir for atrocities and war crimes in Darfur. The actual warrant did not accuse him of genocide but the prosecution request for a warrant accused Bashir of leading a “genocidal” campaign against the Zaghawa, Fur, and Masalit tribes. Bashir was also accused of encouraging or tolerating the murder, rape, torture, and forced displacement of civilians. When “forcibly displaced” civilians flee janjaweed militias en masse they die from exposure, hunger, and disease. This amounts to “slow” ethnic cleansing. Bashir responded with defiance and accusations that the warrant is “colonialism.” The government, responding to the ICC warrant, began kicking various non-governmental aid and relief organizations out of the country. Meanwhile, the Arab world was initially unsure of how to deal with the arrest warrant. Many Arabs simply saw it as another example of European colonialism and an attack on Islam. But this sort of rationalizing is getting old, even in the Arab world, where there are growing efforts to get Sudan to stop attacking its own people. In the end Arab nations simply ignored the war crimes charges and allowed Bashir to visit them freely. Bashir is still wanted for prosecution and some Arab states quietly pressure the UN to withdraw the charges. After all what Bashir did, and is still doing, is a common practice in the Middle East and is still going on in places like Syria and Iraq.
Other African nations are not as forgiving and in September 2015, just before the UN investigators got to work the AU (African Union) announced the formation of a war crimes court to deal with the many atrocities that were occurring in the South Sudan civil war. This court is part of the mid-2015 peace deal in South Sudan. At the same time the Sudan government reported that its own investigation of reported crimes and abuses by its Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia had cleared the militia of charges. Yes, you read that correctly. The Sudan government’s report cleared the RSF, a militia force that supplements other Sudanese military forces in combat and counter-insurgency operations. It operates like the old janjaweed militias did in the worst days in Darfur. The RSF is brutal. There is simply too much evidence out there that its militiamen commit war crimes on a regular basis.
Meanwhile the growing number of refugees from the areas recently fought over in South Sudan increases as do the number of people throughout the country who have seen crops destroyed and access to outside aid cut. The UN is unable to raise as much money needed to supply aid because of the corruption and widespread lawlessness in South Sudan. Why pay for aid when so much is stolen and there are other parts of the world in need and less chaotic?
March 10, 2016: South Sudan announced that oil production will resume in two “new states”: Northern Liech state and Ruweng state. These two new states were once part of Unity state and are located just east and southeast of the disputed Abyei region. Southern Liech is the third new state carved from Unity state. Unity state has some of South Sudan’s largest oil fields. The civil war curtailed oil production throughout the country. The government desperately needs oil royalty revenue. Oil royalties fund at least 95 percent of South Sudan’s annual budget.
March 9, 2016: In Sudan (North Darfur) unknown gunmen fired on a peacekeeper patrol killing one peacekeeper and wounding another.
March 7, 2016: An advance force of 1,370 South Sudan rebel security personnel and government members are awaiting transportation to the capital, Juba. The August 2015 peace agreement stipulates that the deployment take place. However, in South Sudan distrust runs rampant. On March 6 a senior rebel leader accused the government of preparing to launch a new offensive in Eastern Equatoria state. The rebels claimed that the government had moved a heavily armed unit into the state and is in the process of building up food supplies and other supplies in the state.
March 5, 2016: Gunmen in Sudan’s North Darfur state attacked a three-vehicle convoy headed for the state capital. At least one person was killed; several were wounded. The governor of North Darfur called the perpetrators outlaws and said that criminals have no tribe. The attack followed several cattle raids (ie, mass thefts) in the vicinity of Tawilla.
Sudan opposition leader Hassan al Turabi, died in Khartoum. Turabi had been an ally of current president (dictator) Omar al-Bashir when Bashir launched a coup and took power in 1989. However, since 1999, Turabi and Bashir have vacillated between being opponents and enemies. Turabi was not a modernizer. In fact, he was regarded as a radical Islamist and a member of Sudan’s Muslim Brotherhood. However, he became an advocate of women’s rights and democracy in “an Islamic context.”
March 4, 2016: UN investigators now believe that at least 25 people were murdered and over 120 wounded when gunmen attacked a civilian refugee shelter in the city of Malakal (South Sudan -- “new state” of Eastern Upper Nile, formerly Upper Nile state). Attacks on the compound occurred over a two day period (February 17-18). Around 47,000 civilians were in the protected area. The attackers also damaged medical clinics, education facilities and water tankers. Over 3,700 family shelters (tent-type structures) were destroyed. Most of the fighting involved members of the Dinka and Shilluk tribes but several Nuer were also killed, allegedly by a group of Dinka youth.
March 3, 2016: New fighting has broken out in South Sudan’s Yambio region. In mid-February a series of attacks by gunmen drove 300 villagers from their homes and to a temporary camp in the town of Bitima (Congo border). Several hundred more have fled into Congo and are now near the Congolese town of Dungu (northeastern Congo).
March 2, 2016: East African Community (EAC) has invited South Sudan to join. Observers noted that the EAC failed to invite Burundi’s current president, Pierre Nkurunziza, to the EAC meeting where the announcement was made. Nkurunziza is a persona non grata for threatening to fight African Union peacekeepers if they deployed in his country. Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and now South Sudan comprise the EAC. Burundi is now a “maybe” member.
March 1, 2016: The Sudanese Army claimed that its soldiers have secured control of the northern sector of the Jebel Marra (Darfur region). Sudanese troops have been fighting in the area with elements of the Sudan Liberation Movement -Abdel Wahid al-Nur (SLM-AW). The Jebel Marra is a region of hills and rugged ridges located in the middle of the Darfur region. It straddles North, South and Central Darfur states and provides rebels with a base area.
February 29, 2016: In Sudan SPLM-N rebels claimed that the army is deploying units near Talodi (South Kordofan state). Though reports are fragmentary (and there are no neutral observers), it is clear that there has been a lot of fighting in South Kordofan in the last week. SPLM-N rebels claimed they seized the town of Dilling (near the capital, Kadugli) on February 25. The SPLM-N used some two dozen “technical vehicles” (wheeled vehicles with heavy machine guns and perhaps recoilless weapons) in the attack. There was another firefight on February 27. Overall the SPLM-N claims it killed some 80 Sudanese soldiers and destroyed four Sudanese tanks.
February 28, 2016: South Sudan rebel leaders are demanding that the transitional government review governmental salaries. The opposition leaders say that current employees are not paid enough to survive.
February 27, 2016: Sudan and Russia have agreed to develop closer economic ties. The announcement followed four days of meetings in Khartoum that included senior Russian foreign ministry officials. Russia received an oil concession in Sudan. The agreement includes cooperation in banking and developing other mineral interests.
February 26, 2016: Angola proposed that the UN place an arms embargo on South Sudan until both warring parties in the civil war make peace. The Angolan government said that at least 10,000 people have died in the civil war and that the leaders of the South Sudan government and the rebels are not sincerely seeking peace.
February 24, 2016: UN administrators in South Sudan apologized for the failure of UN peacekeepers to protect civilians during the February 17 attack at Malakal. The administrators said that an on-going investigation has already concluded that UN Mission in South Sudan [UNMISS] peacekeepers responded belatedly to the attack on a refugee camp.
February 22, 2016: It is believed that Sudan is spending well over 25 percent of its total 2016 budget on military and security-related operations. Some analysts think the figure exceeds 60 percent. The 25 percent figure is based on published reports that Sudan will spend 17 billion Sudanese pounds (approximately $2.8 billion US) on security. But regional experts say that figure is phony. The actual figure is around $6 billion US.