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Sudan's New Post in Chemical Weapons Organization Draws Criticism

  • Jill Craig

Employees of an OPCW-linked lab inspect dummy samples in Munster, Oct. 15, 2013.

Sudan has been elected to the deputy chairmanship of the executive council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The move concerns some analysts, who point to a September report released by Amnesty International that accuses Sudan's government of using chemical weapons against people in Darfur's Jebel Marra region from January to August 2016. The report alleged that as many as 250 people, including children, might have died as a result of chemical attacks, and hundreds more were injured.

In September, the OPCW released a statement that it was aware of the report and would "certainly examine the reports and all other available relevant information." With respect to Sudan's new position within its organization, the OPCW declined to comment.

FILE - A security guard is seen at the OPCW headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands, May 9, 2007.
FILE - A security guard is seen at the OPCW headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands, May 9, 2007.

Maddy Crowther is the head of communications and research at the London-based organization Waging Peace, which campaigns against human rights abuses in Sudan. She says that Sudan's election to the OPCW's executive council deputy chairmanship is disgraceful to the victims of the alleged attacks.

"If this is allowed to slide, then it will end up undermining the OPCW's core mission, and they need to use this as an opportunity to show that even those with a seat at the highest table aren't beyond reproach, and allegations against them need investigating," said Crowther. "So I would really encourage at least one member state, whoever that might be in the OPCW, to search their souls and think, 'Can we actually leave these allegations uninvestigated?' And I would say the answer has to be no."

However, Sudan's foreign minister, Ibrahim Ghandour, refutes the accusations that his government used chemical weapons in Darfur. He argues that Amnesty International included rigged photos of villages and patients in its report.

FILE - Sudan's Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour addresses the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Oct. 2, 2015.
FILE - Sudan's Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour addresses the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Oct. 2, 2015.

"The international community knows very well that the September report of Amnesty International was a rigged report. Sudan responded immediately to that report through a very comprehensive analysis of the report itself," Ghandour said. "Sudan is committed not to obtain chemical weapons, Sudan is highly committed to the non-use of chemical weapons. Sudan condemns any use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world."

Jonathan Loeb, senior crisis adviser at Amnesty International and author of the report, disagrees with the foreign minister that the report was rigged.

"I mean, that is patently false," Loeb said. "Our report was based on interviews, direct interviews with survivors, and witnesses to attacks that took place in Jebel Marra in 2016. This has been corroborated by publicly available satellite imagery."

The OPCW's African member states, including Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa, nominated Sudan to the post. Eric Reeves, senior fellow at Harvard University's FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, says the decision reflects terribly on those nations.

"They all see themselves as part of a continent that is being abused by the world, in their eyes, and, in many respects, they're right," Reeves said. "But certainly, the way to address the issue is not to put [Sudan] on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons."

The organization is tasked with implementing the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention, including the verification of the destruction of such weapons and the prevention of their re-emergence.

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