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  • Writer's pictureAnita Pant

Sudan situation "very alarming": Dialogue needed in conflict-torn regions like Darfur

Updated: Feb 11, 2021

A recent sit-in organised by activists in Darfur to put an end to discrimination, September 2020

While 2019 was hailed as a year of historic transition for Sudan, the country remains mired in divisions and conflict. Hate-based violence is escalating in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile - with new, formerly peaceful regions such as Port Sudan and Kessela now added. Rights for Peace has been working with activists on the ground in these conflict regions to strengthen grassroots networks and promote intercultural dialogue.

Following the popular rising in Khartoum that toppled President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, civilian opposition leaders agreed to joint governance with the military in a transitional deal that promised free elections by 2022. Since then, progress towards civilian governance has been hampered by the military and its brutal suppression of demonstrations with deadly force.

This has had grave consequences for Sudan’s non-Arab minorities. The government has a long history of launching violent attacks against black communities, who predominantly reside in the southern regions of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa communities in Darfur, for example, have been in conflict with the government and allied militias for decades, targeted in a series of indiscriminate military operations sustained in part by an ideology of Arab superiority [1]. In 2007, the United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was deployed in response to government-sponsored ethnic cleansing that killed over 300,000 civilians [2].

And the racial violence once extensively covered in the media has not gone away.

President al-Bashir was later charged by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. But his ousting did not end the violence. On the contrary, it allowed former members of the ‘Janjaweed’ – the government-backed militia that carried out many of the atrocities - to gain control of these areas. Since 2019, human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have reported numerous human rights violations by government forces and allied militias across Darfur, including a deadly attack on an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in July 2020 [3].

Hate-based violence is escalating in other conflict areas too, due to entrenched divisions and continued control of military structures predating Sudan’s ‘transition’. Reports of genocidal language are also on the increase. In recent tribal clashes in Kassala, for example, leaders of the Hadandawa tribe publicly stated that the Beni Amir tribe were “a cancer that needed to be cut off”.

This is despite numerous truce agreements between the government and rebel militias, which have failed to address underlying divisions and grievances. As such, the risk of a repeat of mass atrocities in these regions is palpable. One young activist community member told us:

‘The security situation in South Kordofan at present is very alarming […] Regular attacks [are] carried out by militiamen from the Bagara tribe (an Arab tribe who were part of the Popular Defence Forces under the former regime), Rapid Support Forces and Sudan Armed Forces against civilians. [...] The population are fearful that those militiamen and paramilitary forces might commit more crimes, while there is no response from the government to restore peace and hold those attackers accountable.’

Breaking down these cycles of violence will take multi-dimensional interventions – and countering identity bias, prejudice and divisions is one. In the current transitional period, a new generation of activists are calling for support to address human rights violations, increase advocacy and build peace in their communities. Years of repression have left local capacities depleted, creating a demand for support and collaboration.

Since September 2020, Rights for Peace has been supporting grassroots activists including youth, women and IDPs [4] through online trainings around issues of identity and hate speech.

The project is geared towards prevention, empowering actors to bring positive change to their local communities. Training has focused on raising awareness about identity - how it can fuel divisions, but can also unify. New identities and counter narratives such as ‘youth’ can bring people together across divides. With shared insights, local actors have been able to promote religious and cultural diversity in their localities. One activist says he has “learnt a lot from the project” and is now “mobilising youth from different communities to discuss how to bring people together and end hate speech and discrimination”.

The project has also created a digital network of peace builders from across Sudan who can now share knowledge and collaborate. After the training, participants from Darfur formed an initiative to bring different communities together and end violence in the region, while activists from Port Sudan joined the Peace is Great Initiative, fostering dialogue between youth of different ethnic backgrounds.

With the recent withdrawal of UNAMID from the region, these grassroots networks are more important than ever. A peace-builder from an IDP camp in Darfur, tells us there’s been an increase in attacks against civilians following the UN Security Council decision to terminate the mandate of UNAMID at the end of December 2020. According to him, IDPs are expecting more attacks, but have no trust in the government forces supposedly deployed to protect them - “Our protection cannot be assigned to those who perpetrated the atrocities in Darfur,” he says. But amid escalating divisions, prejudice and discrimination among different tribes in Darfur, he’s hopeful that change can be driven from the community level. “This project will support communities in Darfur through awareness-raising and capacity-building, in particular to end the spread of hate speech.”

This project has been funded by KAICIID International Dialogue Centre. The content does not necessarily reflect the views of the donor.


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