Amnesty International has released a new report describing – what it called -- four years of unrelenting attacks against civilians in Sudan’s South Kordofan State. The civilian casualties result from four years of conflict between the Khartoum government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North.
The report -- called Don’t We Matter – said that “many of the attacks targeted civilian areas…without warning and without legitimate military targets.”
It said people living in rebel controlled areas “have endured an unrelenting campaign of aerial and ground attacks by the Sudan Armed Forces.” And that “during the last four years, there have been military offensives by one or both parties to the conflict which have increased the dangers faced by civilians.”
Nyagoah Tut is Amnesty International’s country campaigner for Sudan and South Sudan. She said one characteristic of the conflict, especially in areas controlled by the SPLA-North, has been the use of ground shelling and aerial bombardments against civilians.
“Between January and April, 374 bombs fell in civilian populated areas of South Kordofan. This has injured about 70 people and also killed 30 people. But other than what has happened between January and April, hundreds of people have died as a result of this conflict. Thousands of others have been injured as a result of this conflict, as well.”
In April of 2014, Sudan launched a military offensive called Decisive Summer.
Tut said, “A characteristic of Decisive Summer has been attacks against civilian areas, not only on SPLA-North positions, but in civilian areas and where civilians are living. People say that if they are bombing hospitals, then there is nowhere else Sudanese air forces are not going to attack.”
Amnesty accused Sudan of violating international humanitarian and human rights laws. Tut said Khartoum has blocked humanitarian access to rebel-held areas.
“So, for instance, last year, between May 2014 and January 2015, there was a measles outbreak in the region. Children in SPLA-North controlled areas did not have access to much-needed vaccines, though [they] had been distributed by UNICEF and WHO in other parts of Sudan.”
She said Amnesty has had difficulty confirming allegations of abuse by rebels because the government has denied access to SPLA-North controlled areas. However, other organizations have accused the rebels of violating rights laws in government held regions. The rebels do not have warplanes.
Tut alleged cluster bombs are being dropped by government planes.
“We documented that MIG fighter jets and Antonovs are being used to drop cluster munitions. The cluster bomb is several bomblets put into one. They either explode on impact or might not explode on impact. In several areas of South Kordofan, there are bits of these bombs that have not exploded. So, children have also been killed. We’ve documented several children who’ve been playing with – what they call – shiny objects only to end up losing a limb or even dying from this.”
Tut said civilians try to protect themselves.
“One of the most remarkable things is the resilience and the courage of people living in these areas. All over SPLA-North controlled areas there have been foxholes that have been dug in the schools, near hospitals, near homes. And this is where civilians tend to hide. In other areas where there are caves and crevasses, then civilians go to these areas. Unfortunately, even these foxholes and caves are not safe sometimes.”
She said the resilience of civilians in South Kordofan should inspire international action to end the conflict and bring those responsible for abuses to justice. Part of that, she said, would be to extend the U.N. arms embargo in Darfur to South Kordofan and Blue Nile State, which is also part of the conflict.
Khartoum has accused rebels of hiding in civilian areas and thus attracting bombing attacks.
Tut said, “In places where the bombs were falling, there were no military targets near these places. There were no SPLA-North positions in these civilian areas. So we have not found evidence supporting what the Sudanese government is saying that these areas are being used by the SPLA-North.”
Tut said there’s no difference between a cluster bomb used in Syria and one used is South Kordofan. The Sudanese government has denied several times it uses the weapons.