By Hashim Hassan
The Nuba Mountains, a disputed region in central Sudan, were given a special status under the comprehensive peace agreement signed in Kenya in 2005 between Northern Sudan and Southern Sudan.
According to the agreement, the Nuba Mountains have been ruled through a joint force of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, representing the South, and the National Congress Party, representing the North.
Since the peace agreement was signed, the United Nations International Mission in Sudan has managed to maintain peace between the two sides, but with the prospect of Southern Sudan becoming its own country on July 9, the situation has changed.
The NCP government, ruled by Omar Al Bashir, promised to recognize the independence of the South. However, as the secession date approaches, things have gotten out of control and tensions are running high, particularly after the government of Northern Sudan took control of the Abyei area, another disputed border region, in clear violation of the peace accord.
The international community has asked that the government of Sudan withdraw its forces from Abyei, but so far it has refused to do so.
Following this same tactic, the government is now attacking the populated areas of the Nuba Mountains from the air in an attempt to disarm the SPLA forces in the region. President Al Bashir said he intends to cleanse the region of Nuba SPLA supporters, mountain by mountain, home by home.
According to an account from one of my relatives in the area, government security personnel have been going door to door, arresting and killing opponents. In the past few weeks, the conflict has led to an exodus of Nuba people fleeing their homes, and some already have taken refuge in mountain caves.
Most are internally displaced, but nowhere in the North is safe, because Nubians are targeted as potential SPLA supporters. As of now, the North and the South are at a critical juncture, with a possibility of a full-scale war breaking out.
In fact, if the international community does not act quickly to protect civilians attacked and displaced, the Nuba Mountains could quickly become the next Darfur. In recent days, reports indicate that government forces have indiscriminately targeted women and children and paid militias.
This is not the first time that the Nuba people have found themselves caught between Northern and Southern forces. The first genocide in the Nuba Mountains took place between 1980 and 1990, leading to mass displacement and death, although it was not well recognized by the international community.
Immediate action must be taken to head off a major humanitarian disaster. First, I urge the United Nations Security Council to provide forces in the region with a clear mandate to protect civilians. Second, the Security Council should use Article 7 of the U.N. charter to protect civilians in the region. Moreover, the United States government should intervene through brokering a cease-fire agreement and bringing an end to hostilities between the fighting parties.
Additionally, international organizations and other nongovernmental organizations should provide humanitarian assistance to families most affected by the conflict, particularly women and children. I urge my fellow American citizens to take to the streets in protest of these gross human rights violations and urge President Obama to keep his promise of to protect civilians in Sudan.
Finally, friends of the Nuba people the world over must provide immediate humanitarian assistance.
The United Nations must take a strong stand to protect lives and prevent another genocide in this region, which is vital in the North-South comprehensive peace accord. A decisive move by the international community, particularly by the African Union, the United Nations, U.S. government and European Union can mitigate this conflict before it escalates. If nothing is done, the outcome will be catastrophic and will be yet another stain on the world’s conscience.
— Hashim Hassan is from the Nuba Mountains and is a human rights advocate and policy expert on sub-Saharan and North Africa. A former Davis resident, he has spoken at UC Davis, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis, Congregation Bet Haverim and other venues on the plight of Sudan and Darfur. He currently lives in Washington, D.C.