ARMED CONFLICT: Highlight on Sudan

Summary: This briefing paper provides a background of the armed conflict in Sudan and its impact on children.

Historical background

The conflict with South Sudan

The internal conflict

Human rights violations


Historical background

Since Sudan gained its independence in 1956 at the end of the joint British Egyptian rule over the country, it has been ruled by a succession of unstable civilian and military governments. During the colonial rule, the Arab Muslims in the north and Christians in the south were ruled as two distinct entities.The people in the south felt neglected while the north of the country was modernised. After the independence, Sudan was left heavily centralised and ruled by the North. Sudan, once the largest and one of the most geographically diverse states in Africa split into two countries in July 2011 after the people of the south voted for independence.

Sudan has long been torn by conflict and has the highest number of internally displaced persons in the world - an estimated 6 million people are displaced. Two rounds of north-south civil war have killed more than 2 million people, and the continuing conflicts in the region of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile have driven 3.1 million people from their homes.

Omar El Bashir, the current president of Sudan who came to power after a military coup in 1989, faces an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

The conflict with South Sudan

Shortly after Sudan's independence in 1956, unresolved constitutional tensions between North and South flared up into full-scale civil war. The conflict was temporarily settled in 1972 before it resumed and escalated in 1983 as the government introduced Sharia law. The conflict was led in the south by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and its armed wing, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). The conflict raged for two decades until the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in January 2005. The conflict is estimated to have cost more than two million lives with another four million displaced. The CPA also provided for a referendum on the independence of the South.

More than 98 per cent of South Sudanese voted to secede in the January 2011 referendum and to become Africa’s first new country since Eritrea split from Ethiopia in 1993. After the independence of South Sudan, disputes have raged between Sudan and South Sudan over oil issues and the three disputed areas of Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei. A referendum was settled in these areas to leave the decision of joining the north or south of Sudan up to the citizens. However, the referendum was delayed over voter eligibility. The conflict is rooted in a dispute over land between farmers of the pro-South Sudan Dinka Ngod people and cattle-herding Misseriya Arab tribesmen. The conflict in the South Kordofan border zone is between the largely Christian and pro-SPLA Nuba people and northern government forces.

Since 2013, and the beginning of the civil war in South Sudan, relations between the two countries deteriorated over the renewed accusations of Sudan’s support to armed opposition in South Sudan.

The internal conflict

The conflict in Darfur

Conflict began in Darfur, western Sudan, in 2003. It was driven by a range of factors, including growing conflict over the areas’ resources and perceptions that the west of the country was being marginalised. In 2003, the “Darfur genocide” occurred. It refers to mass slaughter and rape of Darfuri men, women and children in Western Sudan, perpetrated by armed forces (government). Since 2003, the killings of Darfuri people have continued to happen. The genocide in Darfur has claimed 400,000 lives and displaced over 2,500,000 people.

The Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) began attacking government targets in 2003 accusing Khartoum of oppressing black Africans in favour of Arabs. Despite numerous attempts of peace process, the agreements failed to halt the violence - mostly because they were never signed by the SLA or JEM.

The UN estimates that between 200,000 and 300,000 people have died in Darfur since the start of the conflict. Some 4.7 million people are currently directly affected by the conflict, out of a total population of around 6.2 million. In 2008 alone, 310,000 people were displaced, bringing the current total displacement to 2.7 million. In 2014, Darfur experienced the highest levels of violence and displacement since the genocide in 2004, displacing nearly half a million more people were displaced.

Half of those affected by the conflict are children; nearly 700,000 have grown up knowing nothing but the conflict.

The conflict of South Kordofan and Blue Nile

These two areas were on the front line during the two civil wars and therefore witnessed numerous fighting between the SPLA and the government forces. The people were demanding political reforms and more autonomy. The CPA organised negotiations to determine the status of these areas but the 2011 elections led to the reelection of the northern governor, even though the majority of people felt closer to South Sudan. As a consequence, the Sudan People’s Liberation-North (SPLM-N) was formed and took up arms against the government.  

In November 2011, the rebel groups of Darfur and the southern provinces united into the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF). The SRF agreed to an agreement in January 2013, calling for “a democratic, multicultural and multi-ethnic Sudan”. As a response, the Government deployed paramilitary forces to the southern peripheries to end the conflict militarily.

Human rights violations

As of 2015, over 3 million civilians were internally displaced and over half a million lived in refugee camps in the region. According to the UN, 6.9 million people are in need of civilian assistance in Sudan.

Attacks on education

In 2014, the government intensified attacks in rebel-held areas and the bombing damaged schools, water sources and health centers. Almost half of the Sudan’s children are not in school, even though education in Sudan is compulsory. The main causes are: poverty, instability and lack of security.

Over the whole territory of Sudan, the failure to access education is affecting over 75,000 children. In Darfur, in 2014, ten schools were severely damaged, destroyed or looted during the fighting between the Government and the rebel groups. The UN received credible information regarding the military use of 3 schools by the armed forces in South Kordofan and one school in South Darfur.

Sexual violence and abuse

In October 2014, Sudanese security forces entered the North of Darfur and started beating men and raping women and girls over a two-day period. When the African Union and the UN tried to investigate, they were accompanied by Sudanese security forces - undermining the credibility of their investigation.

In 2014, 15 incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence affecting 60 girls were attributed to the armed forces, 10 to the rebel groups and 35 to unidentified armed men. These incidents happened, in most cases, during attacks on girls’ villages. In addition, the requirement by law to prove rape is very difficult, as the survivor is often accused of adultery.

Killing and maiming of children

Minority children in Sudan seem to be more vulnerable as a result of the ethnic aspect of the conflict. Following the independence of the largely Christian South Sudan, non-Muslims in Sudan constitute today a minority. Children are threatened and receive no protection from the authorities.

Moreover, 62 children, aged between five and 17, were killed or maimed in 2014. 28 children were killed and 32 injured in the shelling by the armed forces of SPLM-N areas. 197 children were killed and maimed during fighting between government forces and armed groups in Darfur. In addition, 15 children were killed and 29 injured by explosive remnants of war.

Finally, in 2014, four children were abducted by the government forces, three by the border guards, one by the rebel groups and five by unidentified militias. Children were used in support functions or labour and sometimes were sexually abused.

The recruitment of child soldiers

Children have been recruited by the armed forces and armed groups. According to UNICEF, there are about 6,000 child soldiers in Darfur alone. Boys can be as young as 11 and girls are often the victims of sexual abuse. The UN verified the recruitment of 55 boys by the JEM and 5 by SPLM-N. Most of them were recruited during a forced recruitment campaign in refugee settlements.

On 30 June 2015, the SPLM-N signed the ‘Geneva Call’s’ Deed of Commitment for the Protection of Children, which aims to reduce the effects of armed conflict on children, the recruitment and use of children in hostilities in particular. However, out of the 12 cases of arrest of perpetrators of violations against children, only four resulted in prosecution and one in a sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment for rape.


Children and armed conflict

Crisis group

Insight on conflict


Human Rights Watch


BBC article


Updated on 18 November 2015


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