A Brief Comment on Claims of “Genocide” in the Sudan  


On 26 January 2002 Gordon Muortat-Mayen, the spokesman of the South Sudan Human Rights Monitor, and described by a Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) spokesman as “our elder politician”, officially complained to the BBC World Service that Sudan had not been included in a list of “world genocides” in the course of a BBC radio broadcast that day. (1)

Mr. Muortat-Mayen stated that “[a]mazingly you have omitted the South Sudan genocide”, where, he claimed, over one and a half million people had died “in a genocide committed during the 17 year war (1955-1972), and over two million dead in the on-going war (1983-Now)”. He claimed that this genocide had been committed by “various Khartoum based governments of the past, and made worse by the current National Islamic Front (NIF) government.”

Mr. Muortat-Mayen’s evidence for such claims included two U.S. Congressmen, Representatives Tancredo and Wolf, the U.S. Committee for Refugees, and assertions made in a Christian Aid report on Sudan. All of these “sources” are partisan with track records of biased and inaccurate claims about Sudan.

This sort of claim provides observers with a prime example of the propaganda that has so distorted international perceptions of the Sudanese conflict. (2) The simple fact is that the conflict, fought since 1983 between the government and the SPLA, cannot be simplistically presented as a war between northern and southern Sudan. Mr. Muortat-Mayen has conveniently ignored the fact that the majority of deaths within southern Sudan during the post-1983 conflict has been as the result of political, factional and ethnic rivalry within southern Sudan organisations and ethnic groups themselves.

The observations of Washington Office on Africa, an American-based Africa interest group – and no friend of the Khartoum government – are instructive:

‘The Irish Times’ further made clear that:

“The largely Dinka, mostly southern SPLM/A is the main rebel organisation, although there has been significant fragmentation and rivalry, within the South. In 1991 the SPLM/A split roughly along ethnic lines, with most Dinka remaining in the SPLM/A and most Nuer breaking away to form a separate faction called the South Sudan Independence Movement/Army (SSIM/A)…The war is being fought largely in the South, with devastating consequences for the southern Sudanese. Because the various factions use guerrilla war tactics and target civilians, and because the factions are split along ethnic lines, rivalry and discord amongst southern Sudanese non-combatants flourish in the South. In fact, factional fighting in the South is responsible for a greater number of deaths than direct clashes between Sudanese government forces and southern rebels. Villages and villagers have become pitted against one another, competing for scarce resources, made scarcer through the many years of war.” (3)

That there has been considerable inter-ethnic conflict in southern Sudan is sadly all too well documented. ‘The Economist’, for example, summed up at least a passing international perception of the SPLA when it stated that: “[The SPLA] has…been little more than an armed gang of Dinkas…killing, looting and raping. Its indifference, almost animosity, towards the people it was supposed to be ‘liberating’ was all too clear.” (4) Given that the Dinka tribal grouping is one amongst nineteen major ethnic communities within southern Sudan, the implications are clear. Following splits in the SPLA, Amnesty International stated that the two groups which emerged attacked each other and civilian groups “for ethnic reasons”. (5) Thousands of southern civilians were killed and tens of thousands more displaced in these clashes. Lieutenant-General Joseph Lagu, the leader of the southern Sudanese rebels in the first civil war has himself stated that the SPLA “broke up on ethnic lines”. (6)

Even the Clinton Administration’s Sudan specialist, John Prendergast, a former development aid expert in the Horn of Africa, confirmed the existence of ethnic tensions between the largely Dinka SPLA and the Nuer tribe as well as communities in Equatoria in southern Sudan ever since the SPLA came into being in 1983, with the SPLA showing what he termed an “absolute disregard for their human rights” (7):

“The SPLA has historically utilized…counter-insurgency tactics against populations and militias in Equatoria considered to be hostile… This has exacerbated relations between certain Equatorian communities…The common denominator between the attacks was the destruction or stripping of all assets owned by the community, creating increased dependence and displacement.” (8)

He cites one observer as saying “The overwhelmingly ‘Nilotic’ character of the early SPLA was…enough to alienate many Equatorians” and personally states that the SPLA is seen in Equatoria as “an army of occupation.” (9) SPLA ethnic cleansing continues to this day. Throughout 1999, for example, the BBC, and other reliable sources, reported on SPLA violence towards non-Dinka ethnic groups, groups which also “accused the SPLA of becoming an army of occupation”. (10) In 2000, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Sudan reported that “credible reports were received whereby SPLA, mostly Dinka, was behaving as an occupying army in Eastern Equatoria”. (11)

It should be clear therefore that the claims and assertions of a southern Sudanese “genocide” at the hands of the Khartoum government as made by people such Mr. Muortat-Mayen are woefully misleading. His facile claims of “genocide” are fundamentally undermined by the fact that well over half of the population of southern Sudan has fled not to SPLA- controlled parts of the country, or neighbouring countries, but rather to Khartoum and other centres in northern Sudan. Victims of genocide very rarely flee towards those who seek to destroy them. To use an analogy very few European Jews voluntarily moved to Berlin in the 1930s and 1940s. It is regrettable that his claims have been dressed up in the guise of a Sudanese human rights organisation. It is sadly all too characteristic of the propaganda that has clouded how the Sudanese conflict has been interpreted. It is also the sort of propaganda that has actively misinformed several important constituencies within the United States, which in turn has further contributed to artificially prolonging the war itself.

In alleging “genocide” in southern Sudan, Mr. Muortat-Mayen, the ‘South Sudan Human Rights Monitor’, the SPLA and the anti-Sudan lobby within the United States and elsewhere devalues the true meaning of that poignant term.


Letter posted on the MSU Sudanese List ([email protected]), 17 February 2002.

Several other propaganda projections about Sudan such as involvement in “slavery” and “terrorism” are gradually unravelling. For example, “slave redemption” in Sudan has been revealed to be inextricably linked with hoaxes and fraud: “The Great Slave Scam”, ‘The Irish Times’, 23 February 2002; “Scam in Sudan – An Elaborate Hoax Involving Fake African Slaves and Less-than-Honest Interpreters is Duping Concerned Westerners”,’ The Independent on Sunday’, 24 February 2002; “Ripping Off Slave ‘Redeemers’: Rebels Exploit Westerners’ Efforts to Buy Emancipation for Sudanese”, ‘The Washington Post’, 26 February 2002; “Sudan Rip-Offs Over Phony Slaves”, ‘International Herald Tribune’, 27 February 2002. Clinton Administration claims of Sudanese involvement in terrorism have been undermined by irrefutable evidence that Sudan had offered Osama bin Laden to Washington in 1996 and had also offered other cooperation – all turned down by the Clinton White House: “In ’96, Sudan Offered to Arrest bin Laden”, ‘International Herald Tribune’, 4 October 2001; “Resentful West Spurned Sudan’s Key Terror Files”, The Observer (London), 30 September 2001; “US Rejected Sudanese Files on al-Qaeda”, ‘The Financial Times’ (London), 30 November 2001; and David Rose, “The Osama Files”, ‘Vanity Fair’, January 2002. 3 ‘Slavery, War and Peace in Sudan’, Washington Office on Africa, Washington-DC, 29 November 1999.

‘Slavery, War and Peace in Sudan’, Washington Office on Africa, Washington-DC, 29 November 1999.

‘The Economist’, March 1998.

‘Sudan: The Ravages of War: Political Killings and Humanitarian Disaster’, Amnesty International, London, AI Index: AFR 54/29/93, 29 September 1993, p.21.

See, ‘The Sudan Peace Summit in Nashville (USA)’, posted on Sudanese List MSU.EDU, 31 October 2001.

John Prendergast, ‘Crisis Response: Humanitarian Band-Aids in Sudan and Somalia’, Pluto Press, London, 1997, p.57.

Ibid, p.56.

Ibid, p.57.

See, for example, “Growing Friction in Rebel-Held Southern Sudan”, News Article by BBC Online, 9 June, 1999.

See, ‘Situation of Human Rights in the Sudan’, UN Special Rapporteur Gerhart Baum, United Nations General Assembly, New York, A/55/374, 11 September 2000, paras.38-42.

The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council sent this media contribution to Media Monitors Network (MMN)