From Sudan to South Sudan, dissident editor won’t be silenced

sudan taban 2On Wednesday July 3 South Sudanese security forces confiscated the entire print run of South Sudan‘s leading independent English language daily newspaper, the Juba Monitor. The reason? Its editor Alfred Taban defied an order not to report on local government demands to be given more authority, Jason Patinkin reports for the Christian Science Monitor:

“It didn’t surprise me,” he says, leaning back in his office chair next to towering stacks of papers lit by the glow of a computer screen.  ”I knew they would react negatively.”

Having endured years of harsh censorship in Khartoum under successive dictators, Taban, from the south, hoped that independence for South Sudan would bring change. But three years later, Taban says the press climate in Juba the capital is nearly as bad as his years in Khartoum, in Sudan.

Taban first moved to Khartoum in 1976 to attend university, then became the BBC’s correspondent in 1981, and until 2007. But it was in 2000 when he began his most important and dangerous work, as he calls it – starting the Khartoum Monitor in order to report on the civil war for readers in the rebellious south.

“Taban’s tenacity earned him a 2006 meeting in the Oval Office (above, left) with President George Bush where he received a National Endowment for Democracy award,” Patinkin adds:

But Taban’s biggest problem is the ruling government’s attitude about press freedom, especially given the civil war. He’s been detained four times since 2011. He and other editors receive calls from the government not to report on topics like corruption.  The confiscation of the July 3 paper was the third such incident this year, and came a day after South Sudan’s press minister pledged to uphold press freedom.


Uncivil society: Sudan revives notorious militias

The Sudanese government has reconstituted the janjaweed, notorious militias that terrorized the restive Darfur region for years, making them an official, uniformed force that has recently burned down huts and attacked civilians, according to a new report prepared by the Enough Project, an activist group that aims to prevent genocide, Jeffrey Gettleman reports for the New York Times:

The report, which will be released publicly this week, includes satellite imagery of hundreds of burned down huts, describing the growing crisis as a replay of the conflict in Darfur that exploded in 2003, when militias laid waste to villages of certain ethnic groups. But what is different this time, the report’s authors say, is that the government’s role in fomenting the violence is hardly secret, with the culprits wearing state-issued uniforms, complete with little Sudanese flags, and even bragging about their exploits on Facebook.

“The Sudanese government has abandoned the fig leaf that the janjaweed don’t operate under their command and control,” said the Enough Project, a nonprofit group based in Washington. “After spending years trying to distance themselves from these forces of terror, the regime is not even bothering to deny their association with these war criminals anymore.”

The revival of the militias would appear to be the latest case of authoritarian rulers forming and mobilizing uncivil society groups or militarized NGOs for political ends. 

Sudan’s many internal conflicts often overlap and intertwine, Gettleman reports:

A possible reason Darfur is heating up again is that the leading Darfurian rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, has been roped into the emerging civil war in South Sudan, helping the South Sudanese government. The Justice and Equality rebels are considered Darfur’s most capable fighting force. Their absence has created a sudden opening for government-sponsored militiamen to operate virtually unopposed.

According to the Enough Project, which interviewed Darfurian advocacy groups and tracked various commanders on social media sites, the new militias are led by army officers and known janjaweed figures. Janjaweed is a term used by Darfurians for the government-backed militias widely believed to be responsible for atrocities that prompted the International Criminal Court to charge Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, with genocide.

Critics of the Sudanese government say it is once again trying to suppress insurgencies by deputizing local proxies who operate with impunity and end up being impossible to rein in. In recent briefings, Samantha Power, the American ambassador to the United Nations, and Fatou Bensouda, the International Criminal Court prosecutor, singled out the Rapid Support Forces as a new menace. Last week, Ms. Bensouda called them “the newest iteration of the janjaweed.”


Reporting from Sudan’s hidden frontline

There is a war being fought in Sudan, and it’s happening almost out of sight, writes Edirin Oputu. In 2011, South Sudan became the world’s newest country as part of a peace deal to end decades of civil war. But just north of the border, in the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan, the Nuba felt left behind. A group of black African ethnic groups, they had fought on the southern side of the civil war and had little in common with their Arab neighbors. Ahmed Haroun—who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes—was elected governor of South Kordofan amid claims of vote rigging. Fighting broke out in the Nuba Mountains soon after.

American Ryan Boyette had travelled to Nuba with an aid agency in 2003 and settled there. His wife is Nuban. When the war broke out and agencies pulled out their staff, Boyette decided to stay. Foreign journalists were finding it increasingly difficult to get to Nuba, so Boyette founded Nuba Reports, a not-for-profit news outlet manned by Sudanese reporters [and funded by the National Endowment for Democracy], that covers the worsening humanitarian crisis.

The Columbia Journalism Review spoke to Boyette about Nuba Reports’ work documenting a conflict that is in danger of being forgotten.

What inspired Nuba Reports?

What inspired it was what brought me to Sudan originally in 2003. I had read an article about fighting that was taking place in Sudan and I was quite frustrated that I had never even heard of the fighting before I had read that article, and it had been going on for 20 years at the time. When this war started, in June 2011, I remembered that that was the reason that I came to Sudan in the first place, because I saw a huge gap in information on Sudan getting out into the international community – See more here.  

Human rights and the escalation of violence in Sudan

lymanThe crisis in Darfur and the conflict in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile continue to intensify, while the Sudanese government and the international community fail to find a solution that will end the violence. The Darfur conflict, ongoing for more than a decade, has rapidly escalated since the beginning of 2014, with renewed government bombardments of civilians and attacks by government-backed militias; the government offensive in Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains has continued unabated since 2011.

In Darfur alone, more than 320,000 people have been displaced since February of this year. The Sudanese government has continuously engaged in direct violence against civilians, violent crackdowns on student protests, and arbitrary arrests and detention of human rights activists in the capital city of Khartoum and other urban centers.

Please join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for a briefing on the human rights situation in Sudan.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014. 10:00 AM-11:00 AM. Cannon 210, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC.

The panelists will address the escalating level of violence in Darfur, Blue Nile, and the Nuba Mountains, discuss the protests in Khartoum, and will offer suggestions for improvements in US policy and congressional action in relation to the ongoing crisis in Sudan.


Omer Ismail, Senior Enough Advisor, The Enough Project

Ryan Boyette, Founder, Nuba Reports

Ambassador Princeton Lyman (above), US Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan (2011-2013), Advisor to the President, United States Institute of Peace and board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Moderator: Lauren Ploch Blanchard, Specialist in African Affairs, Congressional Research Service

For any questions, please contact the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission at 202-225-3599 or

South Sudan: spiraling ethnic killings ‘a failure of leadership’

SUDANsalva_kiir001_16x9The United Nations Security Council should react to horrific attacks on civilians in the South Sudan towns of Bor and Bentiu by requesting an urgent UN fact-finding mission, Human Rights Watch said today. The Security Council should impose sanctions on individuals in both government and opposition forces who are responsible for grave abuses.

“The killing of more than 50 people in a UN base in Bor and the gruesome massacres of hundreds of civilians in Bentiu shows that ethnically motivated brutality against civilians is spiraling out of control,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The UN Security Council needs to act decisively to impress on the warring parties targeting civilians in South Sudan that they will pay the price for their crimes.” “Both the government and the opposition have failed to end abuses and horrific ethnic targeting, leading to spiraling ethnic tensions and more killings,” Bekele said. “UN Security Council members now have a crucial role to play to ensure that this failure has consequences.”

Professor Riek Machar, former vice president of South Sudan and now leader of the rebel group that is fighting the government of South Sudan for control of the apparatus of the government, has publicly threatened to capture and take control of both the capital city of Juba and the oil-producing regions of the country, writes Brookings analyst John Mukum Mbaku.

Branding South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir (above), a “dictator” and arguing that he does not recognize the need to share power, Professor Machar stated that the present conflict, which has lasted for more than five months and resulted in the killing of many people and the destruction of a significant amount of property, will not end until Kiir is chased out of power.

Violent mobilization by groups loyal to Machar against the government in Juba began in December 2013. It was only after bloody confrontations between the two parties that targeted civilians based on their ethnicity had resulted in the deaths of many people (creating a major humanitarian crisis) that a cease-fire agreement was signed in Addis Ababa on January 23, 2014, with the hope of bringing to an end the brutal fighting. The cease-fire, however, was seen only as the first step towards negotiations that were supposed to help the country exit the violent conflict and secure institutional arrangements capable of guaranteeing peaceful coexistence.

What South Sudan badly needs is an institutionalization of democracy and not a government led by political opportunists. In fact, an effective strategy to exit from this incessant violence must be centered around the election of an inclusive interim government—minus both Kiir and Machar—that would engage all of the country’s relevant stakeholders in negotiations to create a governing process that adequately constrains the state, establishes mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of conflict, enhances peaceful coexistence, and provides an enabling environment for the rapid creation of the wealth needed to deal with poverty and deprivation.

On March 9, 2012, less than a year after South Sudan gained independence, then-Vice President Machar met with several Brookings scholars, including myself, in New York City. The meeting was part of the new country’s efforts to seek assistance from its international partners to address complex and longstanding development challenges, including critical issues such as the effective management of the country’s natural resource endowments, gender equity, the building of government capacity to maintain law and order, the provision of other critical public goods and services, and poverty alleviation. ….

The vice president, who appeared extremely energetic and optimistic about prospects for sustainable development in the new country, requested an analysis of the commitments and achievements that the government of South Sudan had made since independence and suggestions for a way forward. The scholars, working in close collaboration with their colleagues at Brookings, produced a policy report requested by the vice president. The report entitled, South Sudan: One Year After Independence—Opportunities and Obstacles for Africa’s Newest Country, was presented at a well-attended public event on July 28, 2012. Panelists included Peter Ajak, director of the Center for Strategic Analyses and Research in Juba; Ambassador Princeton Lyman, U.S. special envoy for South Sudan and Sudan [and National Endowment for Democracy board member] ; Nada Mustafa Ali scholar at the New School for Social Research; Mwangi S. Kimenyi and me.

The report provided a comprehensive review of the policy issues requested by the vice president—the provision of basic services; future engagement between South Sudan and the Republic of Sudan; efficient and equitable management of natural resources; ethnic diversity and peaceful coexistence; federalism; eradication of corruption; and the benefits of regional integration. Most important is the fact that the report placed emphasis on the need for the government of South Sudan to totally reconstruct the state inherited from the Khartoum government through democratic constitution making and produce a governing process that (i) guarantees the protection of human and fundamental rights, including those of vulnerable groups (e.g., women, minority ethnic groups); (ii) adequately constrains the government (so that impunity, corruption and rent seeking are minimized); (iii) enhances entrepreneurial activities and provides the wherewithal for wealth creation and economic growth; and (iv) establishes mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of conflict and creates an environment within which all of the country’s diverse population groups can coexist peacefully.

Unfortunately, when the report was completed, members of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement were already embroiled in a brutal power struggle that eventually led to President Kiir sacking his entire cabinet, including the vice president. The collapse of the government raised the prospects of violent and destructive mobilization by groups that felt the president’s actions were marginalizing them both economically and politically. The ensuing chaos created an environment that was hardly conducive to the implementation of policies such as those presented in the Brookings report.