This picture shows northern prisoners of war being guarded by a soldier of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
I was working as staff photographer for an international relief and development organisation. I’ve always had an interest in Sudan – even before Darfur hit the headlines. There’s been a long history of civil war between the north and the south. In 1996 we decided to do a story covering where the war was going, and how our partner organisations were coping.
The only way in was to drive overland from northern Uganda, itself relatively dangerous due to the Lord’s Resistance Army fighters. At this point, most of the food aid that was getting into the south was following the same overland route (more recently its been dropped from planes), but in ten days in the country we didn’t see much food being moved at all.
Our first couple of nights were spent in a storeroom in the Anglican compound in Yei, a garrison town a few hours drive north of the border. In the evening of the second day, someone invited us round the corner into the old school compound. As we walked in, there were maybe 300 men, all in the remnants of military clothing cooking their evening meals in a courtyard about half the size of a football pitch. They were all northern Sudanese army soldiers (mainly conscripts, with a few officers), some as young as 12 who’d been captured by the rebel SPLA, who were in control of the town.
They were all just waiting – before I’d gone, I’d been clear that the northerners were the ‘baddies’ and the southerners were the ‘goodies’, but sitting in this space with all these young men made me realise that it was much more complex, and that for most people on both sides, what they needed and wanted was peace.
The appeal that was launched from this story raised millions of pounds, and the work that the charity started in Sudan then is still going on now. In July 2006 I went back to Sudan, and was able to visit Juba, the southern capital, which on my first visit was behind the front lines and totally inaccessible. There was a peace accord signed earlier this year, and peace is closer than it has been for maybe forty years, though it’s still incredibly fragile.
This was the lead picture in the article, and ran across a double page spread.
Richard began his photography career in 1990 photographing university balls (instead of actually doing his degree), then spent eight years working as the staff photographer for an international relief and development agency, reporting from over thirty countries, including Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Haiti and Sudan.
He moved to Sheffield in 2000 and worked for a Bradford-based press agency for two years, doing national press and pr. For the last four years Richard has been a freelance, working for the TES, national press and a wide selection of national and international charities.
Photographer since 1990, EPUK member since 2002.
See more work by Richard Hanson