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The world’s unexplained silence over human tragedy in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan

A child cries in a cave shelter in Tess village in the rebel-held territory of the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan. Countless children have been killed by government forces. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

I have just returned from a harrowing independent humanitarian mission to the Nuba Mountains in Sudan. Since June 2011 a war has raged between the Government of Sudan, headed by Omar al Bashir, and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army-North, commanded by Abdel Aziz Adam al-Hillu. They are demanding self-determination and power-sharing for the Nuba people.

How it came to this

Nuba rebels joined forces with the south in its fight against Khartoum in the [Second Sudanese Civil War](Second Sudanese Civil War. This was after 1983 when the warring sides began encroaching on the Nuba Mountains which lie in South Kordofan near the border of what is now South Sudan.

They were to pay dearly for this decision. The Nuba people suffered tremendously as the Sudanese government carried out a scorched earth policy. Villages and farms were bombed, forcing people up into the mountains where they had little to no food. Mass starvation ensued.

The Nuba’s hopes were raised when the war ended with the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement Sudan. Their expectation was that the concessions granted to the south would also apply to them. This did not happen.

The Nuba were excluded from the 2011 referendum that resulted in the south voting to secede and form the new state of South Sudan. Instead they remained part of Sudan.

The Nuba reacted with fury as well as fear. Having fought against Khartoum, they assumed that the Sudanese government would in one way or another retaliate against them.

Their fears were compounded by al Bashir’s announcement after the peace accord that he planned to implement sharia law across Sudan. Many Nuba, comprised of Muslims, Christians and animists, wanted no part of sharia law.

In early June 2011 war broke out between the Nuba and Khartoum and has continued unabated.

Most people outside of the South Kordofan region are unaware of the conflict. Khartoum has banned journalists and humanitarian aid organisations from entering the area. Journalists who have written about the tragedy have done so after crossing illegally into Sudan.

The conflict is described by some as another case of the Arab north fighting the African blacks of the south, or a conflict based on race and ethnicity.

But most experts view it as a political conflict between the Nuba who want self-determination and power-sharing, and the al Bashir regime which is hostile to these demands.

Civilian casualties

Countless Nuba children have been killed by shrapnel, others from a loss of blood pouring from severed limbs. Others have stepped on landmines planted by Sudan’s troops. Some, like a boy whose life I tried to save, died playing, oblivious to the danger.

He died for doing something any 12-year-old would do - throwing rocks at an interesting looking object. It was in fact an unexploded bomb which went off, gouging a deep wound in his abdomen and nearly ripping off his right leg.

Racing over rutted, dirt roads to the only hospital, Mother of Mercy, with the only surgeon, American Tom Catena in the Nuba Mountains, my driver and I attempted to keep the boy comfortable and alive. But it was not to be. He died in the arms of his aunt 15 minutes before we pulled up to the entrance of the hospital.

The world’s unexplained silence

Innocent civilians who have nothing to do with the rebels or the war continue to be victims of the ever-increasing aerial attacks on the Nuba Mountains.

While at Mother of Mercy I saw people whose limbs had been amputated due to injuries from shrapnel, the result of bombs being dropped by Russian-made Antonov bombers and Sochki 24 fighter jets.

Neither the international community nor individual nations, including the US, have done anything about the war, except pay lip service.

What is even more devastating is that al Bashir’s government has purposely blocked international humanitarian aid from reaching Nuba civilians.

Many have starved to death. Even more are suffering from constant hunger and malnutrition.

The world today is horrifically complicated with a nightmarish number of violent conflicts across the globe where tens of millions are in critical need of aid and assistance.

In many places of conflict – including Syria, Iraq, the Gaza Strip, and the Republic of South Sudan – great attention is being focused on the needs of the refugees and internally displaced persons. But that is not the case in the Nuba Mountains.

The question is why? It is a question that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, Great Britain, France, Russia, and China - should answer.

It also a question that should be posed to President Barack Obama and his Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. Before holding their current positions both were outspoken about George W Bush Administration’s lack of concern about the needs of the people of Sudan. Why the silence now?

The image of that young boy, bloodied and in pain but alive, and then his stony eyes following his death, haunt me - and will haunt me - to the day I die. His young, vibrant life should have never ended the way it did, and it is not only the government of Sudan that deserves shame.

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