Four years after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended two decades of conflict between North and South Sudan, fears have grown that progress is stalling. A January 2009 report by the Royal Institute for International Affairs highlights the flaws in the CPA, saying that the parties involved (the Sudan People's Liberation Movement [SPLM], and the National Congress Party) have used the country's oil wealth to build armies and that there are still major issues around border demarcation. These problems will be heightened with the presidential and parliamentary elections due to take place by July 2009; however, delays in preparations for these elections have created challenges of their own.

A long-delayed census, necessary for the elections to take place, was eventually carried out in April 2008, although it is yet to be made public (the date of release has been repeatedly postponed). The highly politicized process was beset by logistical and security problems. Many in South Sudan objected that the census would be inaccurate due to the estimated 2 million internally displaced Southerners still living in the North. In a massive blow for minorities the government decided not to break down census data by religion or ethnicity. Officials said that such information could open old wounds and increase tensions. In Darfur, rebel leaders and victims of the violence wanted the census postponed until there was increased stability and camp-dwellers were able to return home. As it is, many camps were deemed 'no-go' areas for the census-takers, despite attempts by UN negotiators to persuade camp leaders to embrace the process.

According to the US State Department's Human Rights report for 2008, the Muslim majority and the government continued to discriminate against ethnic minorities in almost every aspect of society in the north of the country. There were also reports of discrimination against Arabs and Muslims by individuals in the Christian-dominated south. Non-Arab Muslims and Muslims from tribes and sects not affiliated with the ruling party, such as in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, said that they were treated as second-class citizens, and experienced discrimination when applying for government jobs and contracts in the North and government-controlled southern areas.

The State Department report also refers to the 'hundreds of politically and ethnically-motivated disappearances, particularly of Zaghawas living in Khartoum and Omdurman'. The government was held responsible for these. Thousands of the estimated 15,000 Dinka women and children abducted between 1983 and 1999 remain unaccounted for. UNICEF estimates that 4,000 Dinka abductees remain in South Darfur – far from their ancestral villages in South Sudan.

Displacement has drastically affected the education of children in Sudan. In October 2008, UNICEF reported from the contested area of oil-rich Abyei, where 50,000 people have been displaced since May 2008. Many have arrived in Agok, and UNICEF has attempted to provide emergency schooling to children; however a local headmaster, Peter Majok Deng, expressed concern over overcrowding and lack of resources.

In more positive developments, UNHCR reported in February 2009 that over 300,000 refugees had returned to South Sudan. A tripartite commission comprising representatives of UNHCR and the governments of Sudan and Kenya met in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, to discuss the further repatriation of refugees, and the development of educational facilities in the area.

The situation for women in Sudan remains dire, with rape continuing to be a systematic problem. Rapes go unreported because victims fear being arrested – unless a victim can provide proof of her rape, she is liable to be charged with the capital offence of adultery. The law also remains deficient in not specifically prohibiting sexual discrimination or domestic violence.


Over the course of 2008, the nature of the conflict in Darfur has changed, with further splintering of the parties involved and an increased number of confrontations. Aerial bombardments and ground attacks were launched by the government in West Darfur in February 2008 and in mid-May the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) launched an assault on Khartoum which left at least 200 dead. This was the first assault on the capital in 30 years. The hybrid UN/AU peacekeeping force (UNAMID) began deploying on 31 December 2007 and faced difficulties in its first months, including staff shortages and attacks on peacekeepers (one in July 2008 killed several members of the force).

The ethnic dimension of the conflict is complex. According to the International Crisis Group: 'Inter-Arab dissension has added new volatility to the situation on the ground.'

The recent resumption of conflict in the South Darfur town of Muhajiriya has had a particularly damaging impact on civilians. Fighting between government forces, the Sudanese Liberation Army/ Mini Minnawi faction and JEM has claimed at least 30 lives and forced 30,000 people from their homes. One of the reasons for the escalation of violence, according to Sudan expert Alex de Waal, was the impending decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges related to war crimes in Darfur against President Omar al-Bashir.

UNICEF has reported progress, however, thanks to the presence of humanitarian agencies. In education, primary school enrolment has increased from 516,000 in 2006 to more than 976,000 in 2008 according to UNICEF and Ministry of Education data. Whether this progress can be sustained is another matter.

Women in Darfur remain highly vulnerable to sexual violence. A Human Rights Watch 2008 report stated that women and girls are 'now as likely to be assaulted in periods of calm as during attacks on their villages and towns'. Women in IDP camps in the region are particularly targeted, and rapes and attacks are carried out by government forces, militias and rebel soldiers alike. For those in the camps, education remains particularly inaccessible (see Box, p. 111).

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