Darfur

The Next Darfur?

In Sudan's Rebel-Held Nuba Mountains, War Rages On

SOUTH KORDOFAN, SUDAN — The squat, tin-roofed buildings of the Mother of Mercy Hospital lie surrounded by rocky hills in a natural amphitheater in Sudan’s rebel-held Nuba Mountains. The hospital was made for 80 patients, but last month there were four times that number. Beds lined the corridors and the outside verandas. Injured civilians and wounded soldiers lay alongside the sick, diseased, and malnourished.

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When Liberian dictator Charles Taylor was convicted by the International Criminal Court this week of committing, aiding, and abetting crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone’s civil war, it was widely regarded as an overdue act of justice. But it was also an opportunity to reflect on the many other alleged war criminals still awaiting their day in court.

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Yida Camp, South Sudan—The Yida refugee camp, just south of the disputed border between the Republic of Sudan and newly-independent South Sudan, rarely feels like the edge of a warzone. Children chase donkeys and bicycle wheels through the streets, and the men spend the day languidly sipping spicy coffee in the camp’s surprisingly busy marketplace. The warzone is in the Nuba Mountains in the region of Southern Kordofan, a fifteen kilometer trek away, through the desert and across the border with the Republic of Sudan. Still, it is difficult to be optimistic here.

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When interests meet ideals in the arena of states, ideals lose out. How shall we count the ways? In recent times, there were Somalia, Rwanda and Darfur—the massacres and the ethnic cleansing dwarfing anything happening in Syria or, last summer, in Libya. In more ancient history, the world allowed Japan to grab Manchuria and wipe out Nanking. Mussolini used poison gas to conquer Abyssinia while the League of Nations postured and then fell apart. The U.S. wouldn't even bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz, the reasons put forward being: We need the ordinance for the war against the Germans.

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In March 2009, the Arab League welcomed Sudanese President Omar Bashir at its summit in Qatar. Just weeks earlier, Bashir had been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC)—and a warrant issued for his arrest—for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the murder of nearly 500,000 civilians in Darfur. No matter. The Arab League rejected ICC jurisdiction as an illegal violation of Sudanese sovereignty.  But now, in the months since the Arab Spring began, the Arab League seems to have undergone a transformation.

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Violence has escalated in recent weeks in many places in both (north) Sudan and the newly independent Republic of South Sudan. This is especially true in Blue Nile and South Kordofan—border states that ended up in the North, but are home to large populations that fought with the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and identify with southerners—militarily, politically, and culturally. Many Sudan observers are being asked if renewed war can be avoided in this tortured country.

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In a matter of days, or hours, the northern Sudanese state of Blue Nile seems likely to be the scene of the most violent military confrontation in Sudan for almost a decade. The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) released a highly alarming report on September 23, based on substantial satellite photography, indicating that armed forces of Khartoum’s National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime are mobilizing in a massive formation of armor, troops, and military aircraft: “heavily camouflaged, mechanized units comprising at least a brigade—3,000 troops or more.

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Almost no one in America cares about foreign affairs, especially not for Barack Obama’s foreign affairs. For he has made of almost his entire conduct of peace and war an amateurish mess, crude, provincial, impetuous, peaceably high-minded but stupid—and full of peril to the world, to its democracies, to the United States itself.

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In a recent op-ed in The Washington Post about the independence of South Sudan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered a conspicuous example of the Obama administration’s policy of equivocation when it comes to the world’s newest nation and the country it split from last weekend.

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Two agreements about the dangerous crises in Sudan were signed in the past few days: one purporting to address the Abyei crisis, the other the massive ethnically targeted violence in South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains. Cause for celebration? Hardly.

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