Sudan: The Silent Crisis

Sudan's National Congress Party continues to systematically abuse human rights, harass activists and political opponents, and fuel civil wars to suppress dissent. 

By Jennifer Charette
Program Associate, Africa programs 

Photo courtesy of Nuba Reports.

Later this month, amid long-standing crises on multiple fronts, Sudan is slated to hold a National Dialogue that President Omar al-Bashir proposed in January 2014, promising national unity, reconciliation, and peace. Since then, his National Congress Party (NCP) has continued to systematically abuse human rights, harass activists and political opponents, and fuel civil wars to suppress dissent and keep the Sudanese people wary and divided. 

Sudan under the NCP

Parliamentary elections earlier this year extended the NCP’s 26-year rule, thanks in part to censorship, forced closure of civil society organizations, arbitrary arrests and the detention of critics.

Opposition parties supported by civil society and youth movements organized a nationwide election boycott, helping keep turnout to an officially reported 30 percent but as low as 10 percent in reality. But, despite attention garnered by the boycott campaign, it did not result in significant international criticism of the election process or the NCP.

The NCP actually strengthened its hold on power, thanks in part to the African Union Election Observation Mission’s concluding that the elections reflected the public will, continued backing by Persian Gulf states, and increased investments by China. Now, after tiptoeing around the National Dialogue process in the period prior to elections, the emboldened regime has renewed engagement, confident its strengthened domestic and international position will allow it to avoid forced compromises with the opposition or rebels.

Sudan’s Conflict Areas: South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur

Sudan’s government is engaged in three conflicts, all growing from the civil war that led to the secession of South Sudan in 2011. The conflict has continued between the government and rebel groups, principally the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur. The conflicts are tragically distinguished by widespread atrocities by both the government and rebel groups, including the destruction of villages, sexual violence, and the displacement of millions.

Through enforced isolation of the conflict areas and control over the media, Bashir’s regime has painted the Darfuri and Nubian communities as alien, not-Sudanese.  These divisions along arbitrary lines of religion and tribe have led to growing fears of further fragmentation of the country.

Up Next for Sudan: The National Dialogue

In this environment of discord, Sudan is now attempting to hold the long-promised National Dialogue. Those outside the government believe it is their best, perhaps only opportunity to engage the government.

However, the dialogue will not result in genuine peace and reconciliation as long as the government controls every aspect of the process and rejects international and regional involvement. The NCP’s willingness to engage in the process should not negate past and ongoing human rights violations.

The international community remains reluctant to criticize Bashir for his government’s repeated abuses. The National Dialogue is a rare opening in a closed environment, but it cannot lead to the “sustainable peace” promised by the government, unless the government tolerates dissent.