New satellite images Wednesday over Sudan’s Southern Kordofan State show more alleged mass graves. The state has been the scene of fighting between the Sudan Armed Forces and those loyal to South Sudan. There have been numerous reports of high civilian casualties.
The images were released by the Satellite Sentinel Project, which is overseen by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“The latest images show an additional two new apparent mass graves in south Kordofan, bringing the total of graves identified by Satellite Sentinel Project to eight in the area,” said Nathaniel Raymond, who heads the initiative.
He said the images show a “progression over time in the covering of earth on those apparent human remains.”
The latest images and documents are raising questions about the role being played by the Sudanese Red Crescent Society. The documents come from Sudanese Red Crescent Society, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Crescent.
“What we know now… is that the Sudanese Red Crescent Society has been burying bodies in Kadugli since June. And that they had body bags and tarps prepositioned prior to the fighting. They also had a yellow backhoe/front end loader, with some sort of an excavator,” he said.
Kadugli is the capital of Southern Kordofan state.
The questions being raised relate to the SRCS’s motive. If the allegations are true, is the agency operating out of humanitarian concerns or is it working under the direction of the Sudan Armed Forces or government officials?
“The fact of the matter is we do not know the answer to that question at present. And it’s incumbent upon the Sudanese Red Crescent Society and its colleagues – Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world – to make sure that any grave breaches of the Geneva Convention witnessed by the Sudanese Red Crescent have been reported. That all steps were taken to identify the dead and attempt them to return them to the next of kin and bury them individually in accordance with international standards,” he said.
Raymond also said there’s evidence that the governor of Southern Kordofan “had at one point had instructed the Red Crescent to burn bodies. And that is a very disturbing piece of evidence and I think it’s critical that the Red Crescent immediately respond to those issues.”
What images can’t show
The Satellite Sentinel Project is unable to estimate how many bodies may be buried in the alleged mass graves.
“There are several problems that prevent us from doing a body count assessment. One is the level of resolution on any satellite will not allow you to be able to count individual remains. The second is that all we are seeing is human remains wrapped in body bags or white tarps being buried and sometimes there are multiple people in one of those bags or tarps,” he said.
Raymond said they also don’t know yet the “full number” of alleged mass grave sites in Kadugli and the rate at which bodies are being buried.
‘Where we are now is we can confidently say many, many apparent human remains are being buried over a period of approximately two months in South Kordofan. But the exact number can only be known by exhuming those mass grave sites,” he said.
In addition, the group Physicians for Human Rights says the latest satellite images of Southern Kordofan provide “credible evidence” of possible mass graves. It says they require “a full and comprehensive forensic investigation.”