When a group of Sudanese children discovered an unexploded grenade in the South Kordofan region of Sudan earlier this summer, they made a tragic mistake: They picked it up. The grenade exploded, killing nine children and wounding five. The dead ranged from 3 years old to 14 years old.
The blast was an awful byproduct of an ongoing reality: The government of Sudan continues a bombing campaign against its own people that’s killed scores of citizens and displaced at least 200,000 people along the border between Sudan and South Sudan.
For Andudu Adam Elnail, the violence is personal. The Anglican bishop leads a war-torn diocese in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan. He’s watched bombs fall on local villages, and crouched in foxholes with other Christians.
He’s also spent months asking others to notice: Elnail has testified about the attacks before U.S. congressional committees and the UN. In early September, he sent an open letter to President Barack Obama, pleading for “prompt action to save those still alive.” He added: “Our people feel as though the world has forgotten them.”
As U.S. attention remains fixed on a chemical weapons attack in Syria, world leaders have turned a blind eye to ongoing terror Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has wreaked on his country for decades.
When South Sudan declared its independence from northern Sudan in 2011, the separation deepened hostilities: The Sudanese government viewed many of its own citizens in the Nuba Mountains—including thousands of Christians—as loyal to South Sudan.
By mid-2011, Sudanese military planes dropped bombs on homes, churches, and crops. Militias raided villages, looting and burning the homes of unarmed citizens.
Elnail traveled to the United States in early 2011 for medical treatment. By June, Sudanese planes and militia had attacked his village in Kadugli. In his letter to Obama, the bishop said the militia “hit my house with heavy guns, and all valuables were taken or destroyed. They proceeded to burn the Diocesan offices and Diocesan Guest House in the same hour.”
The bishop said the attack scattered local church leaders and Christians to more than five countries as refugees: “It pains me to remember many of the young men in my town who were killed in cold blood during the same week.”
After returning to Sudan, the bishop said the attacks persisted: “We continue to be bombed from the air daily. Bombs land on farms and schools, churches and mosques, clinics and markets. Innocent civilians, women and children, are killed carrying on their daily lives.”
Some who remain live in mountainous caves, scrounging whatever nourishment they can find. Famine warnings have hit emergency levels, and the Sudanese government doesn’t allow outside aid to the region.
Others walk dozens of miles to the Yida refugee camp in South Sudan—now home to more than 70,000 refugees. When I visited Yida last year, widows grieved murdered husbands, and infants and children suffering from malnourishment filled a rustic medical tent.
Elnail pleaded with Obama to address publicly the violence and misery. Though Obama called the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region “a stain on our souls” during his presidential campaign, he’s spoken little of the renewed violence since his election.
Despite the crush of other international crises, Elnail told the president he hoped he wouldn’t forget Sudan: “We remember your promises to the people of Sudan suffering these genocides and try not to lose hope.”