Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

While millions find freedom in South Sudan, a vicious crackdown persists in the north

A man gestures at a market burnt in an air strike by the Sudanese air force in Rubkona near Bentiu April 23, 2012. Sudanese warplanes carried out air strikes on South Sudan on Monday, killing three people near the southern oil town of Bentiu, residents and military officials said, three days after South Sudan pulled out of a disputed oil field.

Goran Tomasevic/ Reuters

The independence of South Sudan may have liberated millions of people after decades of civil war, but it's been a disaster for many of those who remained behind in the north.

Less than a year after South Sudan became officially independent, Sudan is cracking down harshly on dissidents, relief agencies, journalists and anyone else suspected of disloyalty to the authoritarian regime.

The worst suffering is among civilians near the border of South Sudan, where Khartoum's military has been clashing with rebel groups. The Sudanese air force is continuing to drop bombs on villages and refugees in the border area – including at least one cluster bomb.

Story continues below advertisement

The use of cluster bombs, designed to hurl a deadly spray of shrapnel and "bomblets" over a wide area to kill as many people as possible, would be a blatant violation of international law. But an unexploded Soviet-made cluster bomb, dropped by a Sudanese warplane, was photographed this week in a farming village in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, near the border.

The remains of Chinese-made cluster munitions were also documented in another village in the same region in late February. Since the opposition forces do not have combat aircraft, the cluster munitions could only have been dropped by Sudanese planes.

"Sudan claims it doesn't possess cluster bombs, so why have cluster munitions been found on its territory?" asked Steve Goose, an arms researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Cluster bombs cause unnecessary and unjustified risk and harm to civilians. We believe they should not be used by armed forces, anywhere, any time."

While the fighting continues in the border region, Khartoum has been cracking down in the rest of the country too. The military conflict between Sudan and South Sudan in the border region has triggered "increased repression" across Sudan, a coalition of human rights groups said this week.

They reported that Sudan's authorities have arrested political opponents, harassed activists, imposed censorship on the media, and banned more than 15 journalists from writing stories.

The Sudan government has listed about 20 taboo subjects that the media cannot discuss – including any criticism of the military, the police, the intelligence service, or President Omar al-Bashir. The list of banned topics is given to editors in daily letters or phone calls, according to the human rights groups.

Khartoum is also imposing tougher restrictions on foreign aid groups, especially in the war-torn Darfur region. The result has been a withdrawal from North Darfur by a leading agency, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). Its departure has left 100,000 people without any medical care, and it means that people in the region will die needlessly, the agency says.

Story continues below advertisement

"Over the past year, increasing obstacles have put MSF's work under threat," the agency said in a report this week.

"No shipments of drugs or medical supplies have been authorized since September 2011, while MSF has encountered growing difficulties in obtaining work and travel permits for its staff."

Life-saving Caesarean-section deliveries are no longer possible for women with complicated deliveries in the region. The nearest hospital is a hazardous eight-hour drive away, and women would have a poor chance of surviving the journey, MSF says.

"If we are not allowed to deliver medicines and supplies to our hospital and health posts soon, disease outbreaks are likely to occur, and maternal and perinatal deaths are likely to increase and may even reach emergency levels," said a statement by Alberto Cristina, the MSF operations manager in Sudan.

"Sudan claims it doesn't possess cluster bombs, so why have cluster munitions been found on its territory?" asked Steve Goose, an arms researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Cluster bombs cause unnecessary and unjustified risk and harm to civilians. We believe they should not be used by armed forces, anywhere, any time."

While the fighting continues in the border region, Khartoum has been cracking down in the rest of the country too. The military conflict between Sudan and South Sudan in the border region has triggered "increased repression" across Sudan, a coalition of human rights groups said this week.

Story continues below advertisement

They reported that Sudan's authorities have arrested political opponents, harassed activists, imposed censorship on the media, and banned more than 15 journalists from writing stories.

The Sudan government has listed about 20 taboo subjects that the media cannot discuss – including any criticism of the military, the police, the intelligence service, or President Omar al-Bashir. The list of banned topics is given to editors in daily letters or phone calls, according to the human rights groups.

Khartoum is also imposing tougher restrictions on foreign aid groups, especially in the war-torn Darfur region. The result has been a withdrawal from North Darfur by a leading agency, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). Its departure has left 100,000 people without any medical care, and it means that people in the region will die needlessly, the agency says.

"Over the past year, increasing obstacles have put MSF's work under threat," the agency said in a report this week.

"No shipments of drugs or medical supplies have been authorized since September 2011, while MSF has encountered growing difficulties in obtaining work and travel permits for its staff."

Life-saving Caesarean-section deliveries are no longer possible for women with complicated deliveries in the region. The nearest hospital is a hazardous eight-hour drive away, and women would have a poor chance of surviving the journey, MSF says.

"If we are not allowed to deliver medicines and supplies to our hospital and health posts soon, disease outbreaks are likely to occur, and maternal and perinatal deaths are likely to increase and may even reach emergency levels," said a statement by Alberto Cristina, the MSF operations manager in Sudan.

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
Africa Bureau Chief

Geoffrey York is The Globe and Mail's Africa correspondent.He has been a foreign correspondent for the newspaper since 1994, including seven years as the Moscow Bureau Chief and seven years as the Beijing Bureau Chief.He is a veteran war correspondent who has covered war zones since 1992 in places such as Somalia, Sudan, Chechnya, Iraq and Afghanistan. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.