Facing Genocide: The Nuba of Sudan
A report from African Rights
Facing Genocide examines the war waged by the Sudan Government against the Nuba people of South Kordofan. This war of annihilation, ten years old this month, is the most closely-guarded secret in Sudan. The region has been sealed off for six years while government forces engage in an all-out assault on the rural Nuba. The appalling human suffering inflicted in this scorched earth policy, and the nightmare of life in "peace camps", where the population is forcibly concentrated, have never been exposed.
African Rights has undertaken the first first-hand investigation of human
rights abuses in the Nuba Mountains since the war began. Facing Genocide is
the outcome of this investigation: the Sudan Government's blockade has been
broken and for the first time, the true story can be told.
A War for the Identity of Sudan
The Nuba number about 1.5 million and live in a hilly region of South Kordofan, in Northern Sudan. Theirs is a notably diverse and tolerant society. Nuba people follow Islam, Christianity and traditional religions, and adherents of different faiths can be found even within a single family. Belonging to more than fifty tribes, and speaking an equal number of languages, the Nuba have astonishingly rich and varied cultures.
To the government in Khartoum, the Nuba are an anomaly: a people proud of their
"Africa-ness" in the heart of Northern Sudan. Successive governments
have discriminated against the Nuba: in education, in development, in social
services, and in political office. Northern elites have also seized much of
their fertile land for huge mechanised farms. Nuba migrant workers in northern
towns experienced blatant racial discrimination. By the mid-1980s, many Nuba
youth turned to armed resistance and joined the Sudan People's Liberation Army
(SPLA). The then Prime Minister, Sadiq el Mahdi, unleased a vicious response.
The military government of President Omer al Bashir and Hassan al Turabi, that
seized power in 1989, have escalated this into a war of annihilation.
Against enormous odds, the Nuba have survived so far. But theirs is a bitter
struggle for the highest stakes. The government's programme is dedicated to
the eradication of all that is essential to Nuba society - whose very existence
challenges the foundation of the government's claim that it can create an Islamic
state in Northern Sudan because all the citizens are Moslems who support that
goal. The war in the Nuba Mountains is a war for the identity of Sudan.
Genocide by Attrition
Genocide need not be perpetrated by huge massacres. There are more insidious but equally effective ways of committing the crime. The Sudan Government is committing genocide by attrition: it is slowly and methodically grinding down the society and economy of the Nuba to a point where they simply do not exist. Meanwhile, in the garrison towns, 'peace camps' and mechanised farming schemes, the government is remoulding the political and social identity of the Nuba by force: the aim is to transform them into a deracinated underclass, the loyal servants of an extremist Islamic state.
Africa Rights' report details the components of this genocide. The centre of
the strategy is huge 'combing' operations in the rural areas, in which the army
destroys whole swathes of rural Nubaland. The army avoids confronting the SPLA,
and instead they burn undefended villages, destroy or loot food crops, steal
animals, and destroy all peoples' possessions. The people who remain in rural
areas are dressed in rags, without medicines, and reduced to destitution. The
aim is to create permanent famine, so that the SPLA soldiers surrender or run
away, and the villagers submit themselves to the government 'peace camps', hoping
at least to be fed.
For several years, the Sudan Government has been systematically eliminating
all independent Nuba leadership: chiefs, merchants, teachers, health workers
- in fact anyone with an education - is liable to be arrested and tortured,
executed or 'disappeared'. The aim is to decapitate communities and leave them
without the means to defend their interests. Having completed the elimination
of all actual or potential leaders in the towns, the government has turned to
the villages. It has set up death squads that assassinate village leaders and
Ordinary people are killed too. In each army attack, soldiers arbitrarily gun
down anyone they find. Old people who cannot run away, young children, adult
men - all are liable to be shot on sight, or burned inside their houses. The
army also shells defenceless villages to terrorise and kill.
One of the main aims of 'combing' is to capture civilians. Thousands of men,
women and children are captured when their villages are surrounded, or are snatched
while tending their crops, herding their animals, or collecting water. Many
people run to hide in caves to escape government attacks, but they are driven
even from these refuges by hunger and thirst, or by attacks using tear gas.
Captives are taken to garrisons, forced to carry their own looted furniture,
or drive their own stolen animals in front of them.
These captives - or 'returnees', as the government calls them - usually never
see their families or villages again. Men are either killed or forcibly conscripted
into a militia known as the 'People's Defence Force'. Many are tortured. Women
are raped and forced to work, often in special labour camps. All but the youngest
children are separated for 'schooling' - i.e. conversion to Islam and training
for a role in the new, extremist Islamic Sudan.
The Sudan Government claims that the 'returnees' have voluntarily come to the
'peace camps' to escape the SPLA and to receive relief. And indeed a few do
surrender themselves - from hunger or nakedness, or simple weariness at a life
of fear and apparent hopelessness. Indeed, the depths of poverty in the rural
Nuba mountains are extreme - African Rights was unable to interview some people
because they were ashamed to appear in public without clothes. Control of relief
is one of the Sudan Government's main weapons in its policy of draining the
rural areas of people. No relief agencies operate on the SPLA side. The government
distributes food, medicine and clothes to attract villagers to the 'peace camps'
- but once people are captives, they are kept in poverty and subjected to routine
New 'peace camps' are set up each month. During African Rights' visits in 1995,
the government mounted five big 'combing' operations, and set up several new
camps, where captured civilians are interned.
A Policy of Rape
The Sudan Government has a policy of raping all Nuba women and girls who are
abducted. Part of the testimony of one rape victim is presented here. She is
Fawzia Jibreel (her identity and village have been concealed), a seventeen-year-old
Otoro girl who spoke to African Rights the day after her return from three months
in Mendi 'peace camp'. Her voice was very quiet and she held her head in her
hands throughout the interview. Her village was attacked and burned at dawn
on 31 January 1995, and the villagers rounded up:
"Very early in the morning the enemy came and surrounded the whole village. Our family has two compounds - they took sixteen people from just our family. The soldiers said: 'You will come with us to Mendi. If you refuse, you will be killed.' On the way they said: 'Something you have never seen before - you will see it in Mendi'."
Fawzia went on to detail what life in a 'peace camp' means. Some women and
girls were forcibly 'married' by soldiers who chose them. The others had only
a few hours of peace:
"After dark, the soldiers came and took the girls to their rooms, and raped them. I was taken and raped... When you have been taken, the soldier who has taken you will do what he wants, then he will go out of the room, you will stay, and another one will come. It continues like this. There is different behaviour. Some lady, if she is raped by four or five soldiers, she will cry from pain. Then, if the soldiers are good, they will leave her. But others will beat her to keep her quiet, and they will carry on.
"Every day the raping continued... It is impossible to count the men who raped me. It was continuous. Perhaps in a week I would have only one day of rest. Sometimes one man will take me for the whole night. Sometimes I will be raped by four or five men per day or night; they will just be changing one for another."
Fawzia details how every activity in the peace camp seemed to be designed so
that the soldiers can exercise their arbitrary power over their women captives'
bodies. The soldiers can force the women to work, can control their access to
the water pump, and distribute relief items at whim, all to compel the women
to submit. No women were spared, even girls as young as nine years old were
raped. The men in Fawzia's group were all forced to join the 'People's Defence
Force', where, after brutal training, they are compelled to join in the destruction
of their own communities. Christians are forbidden from praying. Children are
separated from their parents, and many are sent away to special camps outside
the Nuba Mountains for indoctrination and training.
If the Sudan government's policy of 'combing' continues to its logical conclusion,
every rural Nuba women or girl will have been raped. This crime destroys individuals
and communities and creates a generation of children who do not belong to their
mothers' communities - or indeed to any community at all. In short, it is an
instrument of genocide.
The Attack on Islam: The Government's Darkest Secret of All
The Sudan Government is fighting its war in the name of Islam. Its attack on the Christian church in the Nuba Mountains is not a surprise. Dozens of churches have been burned, many priests and catechists have been killed, and Christians in peace camps are routinely forced to convert to Islam.
What is more shocking is that the Sudan Government is also desecrating mosques.
It is burning them and destroying copies of the Koran, as commanded by a Fatwa
issued in 1992 by pro-government Imams, which decreed:
"An insurgent who was previously a Moslem is now an apostate; and a non-Moslem is a non-believer standing as a bulwark against the spread of Islam, and Islam has granted the freedom both of them."
If Moslems in areas outside government control are heretics, then it follows
that their mosques cannot be "real" mosques. The widespread desecration
of Islamic places of worship is the Sudan Government's darkest secret.
Facing Genocide includes extensive evidence of attacks on mosques. One testimony is reproduced here, from Ali Tutu Atrun, Imam of the mosque in Kodi Ba in the Otoro hills. The soldiers of Mendi-Fawzia's abductors - were those responsible. They claimed to be acting in the name of Islam.
"One morning in January  the army attacked Kodi Ba... After they burned an area adjacent to the mosque I saw them moving towards the mosque. They entered the mosque with their boots on. They took some time and they came out carrying books, chairs, a table and a carpet from the mosque. I saw six of them taking positions around the mosque's rakuba [veranda] and the library. The six soldiers pulled out matches from their bags and in minutes the mosque's rakuba and the library were on fire. Then I heard a gunshot and saw the fire at the top of the mosque. The mosque started burning from top to bottom. I couldn't believe my eyes.
"I saw the army leaving Kodi Ba at about 10.30am. It was a big force of over three hundred men all in military uniform. At 12.00 noon I came down to check the destruction... I was the first to enter the mosque. Inside the mosque I found writings on the wall. The writing reads: 'If you are Moslems, join Dar el Islam [the 'place of Islam'] in Mendi.'"
Imam Atrun, who studied Islam in prestigious colleges in Khartoum and Mecca,
was outraged by the army's destruction of his mosque, the burning of his copies
of the Koran and Hadith, and the looting of the zakat charitable donations he
had collected to distribute to the poor. He was even angrier at what he saw
as a patently false interpretation of Islam contained in the soldiers' graffiti.
Imam Atrun said: "Allah is anywhere - we need not go to Mendi to be
Most Sudanese Moslems have long opposed the human rights violations committed
by the government, in the name of Islam. The desecration of mosques in the Nuba
Mountains confirms the depths of the government's hypocrisy, and its cynical
abuse of religion in pursuit of power.
The international community has been almost completely silent in the face of the Nuba genocide. There are no humanitarian programmes in the area controlled by the SPLA, where about 200,000 people live. The Nuba faced the exceptionally severe man-made famines of 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993 without any international assistance whatsoever. In addition, the Nuba Mountains have remained off the agenda for internationally-sponsored peace talks. The recent ceasefire negotiated by former US President Jimmy Carter excludes the Nuba Mountains.
The one group who are not passive in the face of this genocide are the Nuba
people themselves. They have been forced into self-reliance. In the non-government
held areas, the people have set up - or pressed the SPLA to set up - schools
(with no textbooks), clinics (with scarcely any medicines), a nursing school,
a theological college, a judiciary and a civil administration. Most significant
of all is the establishment of institutions for political representation. In
1992, in the midst of the war, a remarkable conference was convened in the centre
of the SPLA controlled area, in which two hundred delegates from all parts of
the Nuba Mountains, most of them civilians, openly debated whether the SPLA
should be given a popular mandate to continue the war. It was not a propaganda
exercise (it has never been reported outside the Nuba Mountains before this
report) - it was a genuine debate, with prominent civilians and SPLA commanders
arguing on both sides. The conference has since developed into a Nuba parliament,
known as the Advisory Council.
The actions of the soldiers of Mendi garrison are characteristic of the behaviour of the Sudanese army in the Nuba Mountains. Conditions in the seven other peace camps investigated by African Rights are comparable, and soldiers and militiamen from numerous other garrisons have perpetrated similar or worse atrocities.
African Rights' report also details:
African Rights has visited the SPLA-held areas of the Nuba Mountains twice
during 1995, travelled extensively, and gathered more than 130 first-hand testimonies
of victims and witnesses of human rights abuse. African Rights has also established
a human rights monitoring programme, and receives regular and detailed reports
from the monitors. Confidential documents from government and army sources have
also been obtained.
African Rights concludes that there is no doubt that genocide is being committed in the Nuba Mountains. If the Sudan Government is able to continue its war against the civilian population for one or two more seasons, tens of thousands of Nuba people will be killed, the majority of the women and girls raped, and most of the children separated from their parents. It is unlikely that Nuba civilisation as it has been known will ever exist again. There is a moral imperative on all who are concerned with basic human rights to prevent this crime from being perpetrated.
Facing Genocide: The Nuba of Sudan, published by African Rights on 21 July
358 pages, ten photographs, map.
ISBN 1 899 477 04 7.
Price £9.95 or US$14.95
©Copyright: African Rights, July 1995
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