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Sudan: Race-based violence and torture

Osman Naway

2012-11-08, Issue 605

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The Sudanese government is involved in grave human rights violations against blacks in the Nuba Mountains and other areas. The state is also targeting human rights defenders and other activists for speaking out against the killings and destruction.

Jalila Khmais Koko is a Nuba woman activist detained eight months ago for calling for peace and helping her peoples fleeing the war in Nuba Mountains to safe places such as the Sudanese capital Khartoum. Jalila’s humble house was overwhelmed by 20-30 relatives in early June 2011 who were seeking security after running away with their lives from the indiscriminate bombing in Nuba by the Sudanese government.

Jalila, a 45-year-old mother and teacher, was arrested on 14 March 2012 in her pajamas and taken to unknown place where she was subjected to inhuman treatment before she was sent to solitary confinement for three months . On June 2012 , protests took place in many Sudanese cities where at least 14 women were detained together with Jalila. But in August all her companions were released and Jalila remained detained. Of the five charges leveled against her, two could lead to a death sentence. But the main reason why Jalila was retained after her cell mates were released is that Jalila is a Nuba woman.

On 29 October 2012 , Somaya Henndousa, a journalist and woman activist, was kidnapped from the street and taken to an unknown place, and three days later she founded in east Khartoum with hair shaved and bearing marks of burns on her body. According to her family, Sudanese security officers kidnapped her and tortured her because she is from Darfur and was accused of supporting the rebels in Darfur. Her family stated that she has been subjected to ‘verbal racist slurs directed at her and her tribe’. Somaya’s head was totally shaved by the officers who gave the excuse that her ‘hair looks like the hair of Arabs while she belongs to the slaves in Darfur’.

Nuba Mountains and Darfur are the most remote regions in Sudan now. Both regions are witnessing a devastating violent campaign led by the Sudanese government. While the Darfur war started 10 years ago, the Nuba Mountains war is a 25-year-old conflict, with five years of relative peace after the 2005 Peace Agreement which stopped the 50-year civil war between South Sudan and the government in Khartoum. Nuba peoples supported the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement /Army in its war against Khartoum. The Nuba peoples’ support was based on the common ground of demanding equal citizenship and a full political and economic participation. These demands were based on the marginalisation and exclusion based on race that the peoples of South Sudan, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile have faced since the independence of Sudan in 1956. The central governments in Khartoum had alwys been led by people of Muslim/Arab ethnicities , while non-Muslims/African ethnicities were completely ignored and marginalised economically and politically for decades.

This exclusion in fact goes back to the Arab migration to Sudan in 15th and 16th centuries, leading to division of the community to Arab and African entities. Africans were the source of slaves for the trade in human beings which intensified in the 19th century under the Egyptian –Turkish rule. This history has been the basis of continuous racism, whereby the dark coloured peoples are still considered ‘slaves’. Those ethnicities that didn’t assimilate into the Arab/Muslim culture and reserved their original African cultures are considered ‘salves’ by the central Arab/Muslims ruling elites.

This racism appeared to end with the drawing of new boarders for Sudan when the South Sudanese voted 98 percent for session from Sudan and formed their new country in 2011 . But it seems racism is driving the violent campaign in war regions in Sudan occupied by African ethnicities. Those marginalised peoples are witnessing war crimes perpetrated by the government in Khartoum through indiscriminate bombing, starvation and mass killing attacks of civilians in reaction to their call for an end to marginalization and exclusion and the granting of equal citizenship. These legitimate demands have been repressed violently since the first days of the independence of Sudan. Themarginalised regions of South Sudan, Darfur, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile were severely excluded from government jobs, leading to the distrust in the new government and the first civil war in 1955.

Nuba Mountains peoples are now facing the second genocide in one decade, the first was Darfur for which Omar Al Bashir, the Sudanese president, is indicted for war cries, crimes against humanity and genocide by the International Criminal Court. In Nuba Mountains the crisis is repeating itself more violently now, with the same techniques of aerial bombing and mass land attacks on civilians. People have sought refuge in caves, but the Sudanese government seems more dtermined to continue its crimes to put the peoples of Nuba Mountains under total siege. The government has prevented aid agencies from providing the victims of war with food and medical careThe government is killing Nuba peoples by starvation, as the recent statistics indicate that 500,000 are in need of urgent food aid.

The race factor is the main driver of the violent attacks against activists by the Sudanese government. Activists from the marginalised regions and human rights defenders campaigning against the government atrocities are subjected to intimidation and other reprisals while their families are also targeted for intimidation, detention and torture when the security officers cannot reach the activists . In the past two years there have been dozens of torture reports against activists and citizens from marginalised regions committed by Sudanese security and armed forces. In June an organization published a video of Sudanese government armed forces torturing a child named Alnaeam in the village of Rehaid Albardy near Alabassyia in Nuba Mountains. The also video shows a violent attack on this village where all the civilians’ houses were burned down. The torture inside security detentions is highly racist, where women and men from Darfur Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and East Sudan are subjected to racist insults, physical torture, sexual harassment , severe beatings and intimidation. Many instances of race-based violence and torture have been documented by lawyers, activists and NGOs.

This violence and torture is not just affecting individuals, but it is also creating a humanitarian crisis for millions in Sudan and destroying the lives of millions of children and women who now live in displaced people’s camps, in mountain caves and in slums in the cities. Activists and human rights defenders inside and outside war zones are under constant attack and intimidation by the Sudanese government to stop them from breaking the silence surrounding the mass atrocities.

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*Osman Naway is human rights defender from Nuba Mountains living in exile in USA and the director of Arry organization for human rights( He blogs at See also

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