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Atrocity becomes a way of life.

LAST DECEMBER, a doctor residing in Khartoum fell into conversation with a taxi driver. After a while, the driver stopped the car and began to weep. When the doctor asked what was the matter, the young man lifted his shirt to reveal his back, criss-crossed with weals and dotted with cigarette burns. He was an engineer, detained for suspected opposition to the government of Sudan, tortured, blacklisted, and now forbidden either to carry out his profession or to flee the country and join the estimated three million Sudanese living in exile abroad.

"Nowadays everybody in Khartoum knows of someone who has been tortured," recounts the doctor. At last, the outside world is beginning to catch on as well. In March, 35 countries at the 49th session of the United Nations Committee on Human Rights in Geneva signed their names to the committee's first public denouncement of the human rights record of the government.

All Sudanese citizens now live in a climate of repression. Since the coup in June 1989 led by General Omar al Bashir, political parties and trade unions have been outlawed, non-governmental newspapers are censored or banned and thousands of men and women have been purged from the civil service, the judiciary, the army and other institutions. Against this background, individuals are arrested and interrogated by means which range from bullying intimidation to life-threatening torture in the now notorious "ghost houses", or secret detention centres.

In the "theatre of war", primarily the south, human rights abuses take the added form of widespread extra-judicial killings or summary executions, well-documented by both the London-based Sudan Human Rights Organisation (SHRO) and international groups including Africa Watch and Amnesty International. Large-scale killings by the army in the southern capital, Juba, in the summer of last year are just one example. Hundreds of people are reported to have been arbitrarily executed, as government forces made house-to-house searches after incursions by the rebel Sudanese Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA).

The various factions of the SPLA, which spend as much time fighting one another as engaging in combat with government forces, treat the local population under their control just as harshly. Conditions are equally bad in government and rebel held territory. Besides outright repression, the spectre of famine looms ever larger, raising the prospect of a catastrophe of Somali proportions. Yet it was only with great reluctance that the Khartoum government gave permission for international humanitarian aid organisations to return to the south, and to date little has effectively been accomplished.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of refugees from the war-torn south have fled northwards to the environs of Khartoum. The government has pursued a concerted policy of destroying their squatter camps and dispersing the mainly Christian refugees. "There is an assumption among northern Muslims that foreign |aid~ agencies are Christian agencies interested only in Christians from the south," one aid worker is reported as saying.

Evidence is now mounting that the government of Sudan has embarked on its own programme of "ethnic cleansing", trying to defeat the SPLA in the contested Nuba Mountains area by driving out the Nuba themselves. The most recent reports are of a massacre of Nuba people of the Kawaleeb tribe in the Heiban district of Southern Kordofan, in an operation which began at the end of December 1992 and carried on into January of this year. The campaign left 6,000 dead and 2,000 wounded, according to information received by the Sudan Human Rights Organisation.

The Nuba number in total only about 800,000. Well-known to anthropologists for their music, body-art and wrestling, they are not one tribe but a cluster of peoples, speaking up to 50 different languages. About half are Muslims and almost all are farmers, living off their own smallholdings. Although many Nubans identify themselves politically and racially with Sudan's black African south, the region is geographically part of northern Sudan.

In what the London-based African Rights organisation describes as "probably the largest scale and most systematic abuse of human rights in Sudan," the very basis of the Nuba way of life is under attack. The army, backed by the government-armed Popular Defence Force militia, has burned villages and killed civilians. The SPLA, for its part, has engaged in forced conscription, looting of crops and cattle, and murder.

In 1991, an ominous purpose began to appear in the government's activities in the hills of Southern Kordofan, with the selective killing of Nuba leaders and educated people. "There appeared," said African Rights, "to be a systematic pattern of eliminating any Nuba who had any potential to exert an influence over the community."

In January 1992, the government announced a jihad in the area, and began relocating people to what the authorities call "peace villages", poorly prepared sites which in anyone else's terminology would be refugee camps, hundreds of miles away in Northern Kordofan. Again, the movement of people was systematic and discriminatory, with children, women and old people being sent to so-called "hospitable families" as free domestic labour, and men being sent to the camps. There is no more effective way of destroying a culture than removing children from their parents. In the Nuba Mountains, hundreds of children have been separated from their parents. In most cases, their fate is unknown.

The newly-cleared land made available by the forced relocation of up to half the Nuba population is being developed for mechanised farming. Some of the tens of thousands of displaced men have subsequently been trucked to sites near these farming schemes. "The plan appears to be to transform the Nuba population from an independent, self-sufficient group into a dependent population of farm labourers," says Alex de Waal of African Rights.

The Sudanese government, in its statement to the United Nations Committee on Human Rights, describes allegations of human rights abuses in Sudan as "unfounded and improbable". The UN-appointed investigator, Gasper Biro, on the other hand, stated after his visit to Sudan in November 1992 that "in large areas of the country there is no cheaper thing at the present time than human life." Regarding the fate of the people of Southern Kordofan, Biro found in his report that "concerns expressed regarding the total relocation of the population from the Nuba Mountains are well-founded." He was told by the Commissioner of Kadugli Province that the remaining Nuba were expected to leave their homes within the next year.
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Title Annotation:the human rights situation in Sudan
Author:Wallace, Wendy
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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