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Gregory Weeks on Access to Resources and Genocide: The Third Sudanese Civil War

9th May 2012

Photo credit Tim Freccia / Enough Project

Gregory Weeks is on the Research Faculty at Webster University in Vienna, Austria. He has been Charles H. Revson Fellow for Archival Research at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (2004-2005), Baron Friedrich Carl von Oppenheim Chair for the Study of Racism, Antisemitism, and the Holocaust at the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority Yad Vashem in Jerusalem (2006), and Corrie ten Boom Fellow at the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education in Los Angeles (2008). He is the co-author of Vienna’s Conscience: Close Ups and Conversations after Hitler, which was presented at the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna (2008). He holds a doctorate in Contemporary History and Austrian History from the University of Graz.

The genocide that is presently taking place in the Darfur Region of Sudan is a direct result of a civil war over resources that took place between the North and the South of the country for over twenty years from 1983 to 2005. Known as the Second Sudanese Civil War, this war was largely a continuation of the First Sudanese Civil War, which took place from 1955 to 1972. The Second Sudanese Civil War was one of the deadliest wars of the late twentieth century with more than 1.9 million killed and over 4 million inhabitants forced to flee their homes.  The casualty rate for non-combatants in this war is believed by many to be the highest since the Second World War, although no reliable figures are available.

This battle for ethnic domination and resources continues today with the North attacking the civilian population in the Darfur Region of Sudan in order to secure access to oil and other resources, including water, there. In 2005, then-U.S. President George W. Bush officially declared the activities taking place in the Darfur Region “genocide” and reaffirmed this in 2006. Still, since that time, little has been done to alleviate the suffering of the affected populations, and traumatized civilians fleeing Darfur have created a refugee crisis in neighboring Chad. A number of observers view the financial support coming from oil companies to the government in Khartoum as one of the main catalysts in the conflict, and several genocide NGOs have encouraged investment divestment by Western and Chinese companies to put an end to the conflict, without success.

In January 2011, almost 99 percent of South Sudanese voted in favor of independence from the North in an internationally-backed referendum. The result was the secession of South Sudan from Sudan on July 9, 2011. Although it is one of the world’s least developed countries, South Sudan has rich oil reserves that make feasible the prospect that it can become a prosperous stand-alone nation. South Sudan’s oil riches are at risk due to its lack of a well-trained army, however, and this has made it a target for Sudan. Beginning in January 2012, a game of brinksmanship began between the two countries that erupted into a direct conflict between South Sudan and Sudan in April 2012. Fighting has continued since then.  This appears to be the beginning of a third, even larger Sudanese civil war, where the stakes are even higher than they were in the first two conflicts.

The most appalling aspect of this new general resource war is the use of sexual violence against both men and women as they try to obtain access to food and water outside the villages in Darfur and in South Sudan. Marauding militias roam at will in both countries, and the governments of both Sudan and South Sudan have tried to destabilize the other’s respective governments by sending rebels to sow chaos. One of the tactics frequently used by the Sudanese government-supported Janjaweed Militias in the North is to surround a town and then rape or kill anyone who exits the perimeter to forage for food or fetch water. Moreover, the Sudanese Janjaweed have an incentive to gain control of all resources since they are paid from the spoils of their conquests after they have used tactics such as the ones mentioned previously to force out the inhabitants of the villages and „ethnically cleanse“ the local populations. In many cases they burn grain storehouses to starve out the local populations. This has been documented by former Marine Captain Brian Steidle, who served with the African Union as an observer in Sudan in 2004.

Oil, rather than water and food, has become the powder keg for the new conflict, with South Sudan in control of most of the oil fields but the pipeline for exporting the oil running through Sudan in the North. In this situation, there will not only be instability in the region but also a lengthy, low-intensity conflict that will claim millions of lives. Hunger, thirst, and violent attacks against the local populations are the main methods used in the battle for control of South Sudan’s oil. The result is a conflict with clear genocidal intent over natural resources and based on ethnicity.

Unless there is significant outside intervention, this Third Sudanese Civil War appears destined to last at least as long as the first two, meaning twelve to twenty years. The death toll and the physical and mental damage will be immense. Only international intervention has a chance of defusing the violence, but this is not soon to be forthcoming if the past is any indicator.


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