Darfuris flee Sudan for refugee camps in neighboring Chad. Photo by Barbara Grover. 

Overview

Sudan has been at war for longer than it has been at peace, and the Sudanese people have been plagued by genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes since independence in 1956. Inequitable wealth sharing of revenues from resources, the struggle for southern self-determination, ethnic rivalries, and competing views on the role of religion in the state have all been drivers of conflict.

At the heart of Sudan’s protracted conflicts is the division between the Arab dominated center in Khartoum, and the marginalized non-Arab populations in the geographic and socio-economic periphery.


Sudan’s two civil wars fought between the north and the south spanned decades and caused the deaths of approximately two million people. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in 2005, ended the war, and led to southern secession and the creation of South Sudan in 2011, the world’s newest country.

In 2003 the uprising in Darfur by two rebel groups claiming inequitable treatment of the non-Arab Sudanese population, led the government respond with a genocidal campaign to rid the area of non-Arab populations. The government responded to a rebel uprising in South Kordofan and Blue Nile in 2011 (two states that share a border with the newly created South Sudan) with tactics that were similar to those used in Darfur–indiscriminate aerial bombardments and assaults from ground forces.

The government of Sudan has been headed by President Omar al-Bashir since a coup in 1989. He was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, yet he continues to rule the country and commit atrocities with impunity.

Recent Developments

President Bashir was re-elected in April 2015, garnering 94% of the vote in a poll boycotted by all of Sudan’s major parties and widely criticized for its lack of credibility. Despite being indicted by the International Criminal Court, President Bashir has been able to travel to a number of nations without fear of arrest.

After more than two decades of economic sanctions against Sudan, President Obama began the process to lift sanctions on Sudan, citing improvements on five key “tracks” including humanitarian access and counter-terrorism. Crucially, human rights was not included as one of the tracks monitored for sanctions relief. Many in the activist and Sudanese diaspora communities opposed this move, as Sudan continues to commit atrocities against its people.

Weeks after President Obama lifted sanctions on Sudan, President Trump issued an Executive Order banning travel by Sudanese citizens to the U.S. The contrast between the two measures showed a lack of clarity of U.S. policy. Sudan was removed from the latest travel ban issued on September 24, 2017, and on October 6, 2017, President Trump officially lifted sanctions, but did not lift Sudan’s state sponsor of terrorism designation. Trump administration announced its plans to close the Office of the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, a high-level presidential appointee position whose focus was solely on Sudan and South Sudan, potentially leaving a gap in U.S. diplomatic efforts.

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Conflicts in Sudan

Timothy Mckulka/UNMIS

North/South Conflict

Sudan has had two major civil wars fought between the north and south. The Second Sudanese Civil War lasted from 1983 to 2005 and was fought between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Approximately two million people died as a result of conflict as well as war-related famine and disease.

Mia Farrow

Darfur Genocide

Considered to be the first genocide of the 21st century, the Darfur genocide began in 2003 after rebels from the region rose up against the government. The government responded with a genocidal policy to rid the region of non-Arab tribes. Violence still plagues Darfur today, and the government continues to target civilians, but the conflict has also taken on new dimensions.

Peter Mosynski/IRIN

South Kordofan and Blue Nile

Violence in the two areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, states that border South Sudan, has been raging since 2011 with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) waging war against Khartoum. The government of Sudan has been and continues to indiscriminately bomb the region and block much needed humanitarian aid.