As violence and rebellion burn across Sudan, delegates from around the world have gathered in Geneva to discuss human rights in the war-torn country.
The conference, hosted by the United Nations, comes on the heels of a report, written by the UN’s Independent Expert on Human Rights in Sudan, a country plagued by civil war and political repression since its independence in 1956.
Sudan is pushing for a vote to end the Independent Expert’s mission monitoring rights abuses in the country. But several delegations to the conference, including the United States and the European Union, are pushing back, calling for a broader, more powerful mandate.
Missing from the report is the fact that the Independent Expert, and all other national or international observers, have been unable to visit rebel-held areas, and zones of conflict. This had made it almost impossible to report on the human rights issues in the most violent parts of the country where Khartoum’s army has waged a scorched-earth-style war against civilians the government sees as rebel sympathizers.
Nuba Reports, based in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan’s South Kordofan state, has verified 1,929 bombs dropped by the Sudan Armed Forces since April 2012. Of those, 756 were dropped since September 2013. Many more have been used in military battles, but all of the confirmed bombings have hit in civilian areas, killing and maiming hundreds. In Darfur, 320,000 people have fled their homes since May as the government-sponsored Rapid Support Force tore through the countryside.
According to the report, the government of Sudan technically granted the monitors access to the war-torn Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. But the access was extremely limited and the lack of similar findings in the report prompted calls for Sudan to provide monitors with more freedom to move around the country.
The report made no direct mention of the aggressive bombing campaign that has plagued South Kordofan since 2011. These bombings have intensified. In the three months before the dry season, Nuba Reports recorded the highest number of bombs since it began tracking the attacks two years ago.
In November, Nuba Reports observed the first use of parachute bombs. These bombs – which have also been deployed by the Syrian government in its civil war – improve accuracy while allowing pilots to fly at lower, safer altitudes. The first were dropped on Tabanya market, killing two children and injuring five. Nuba Reports recorded a total of 20 parachute bombs used between November 2013 and January 2014.
Bombs struck or landed near four health facilities in South Kordofan over a two-month period this spring. The Sudanese Air Force dropped 13 bombs on Mother of Mercy Hospital in Gidel, the only hospital in the Nuba Mountains, over May 1-2. The hospital serves an average of 400 patients; the next nearest facility of this kind is a four- to six-day walk – at the Yida Refugee Camp. Two MSF clinics were also attacked, destroying an emergency room and injuring a staff member. Bombs also landed near a German Emergency Doctors clinic.
Besides hospitals, the bombs dropped on South Kordofan hit homes, mosques, churches, schools and other public spaces. Before the war, there were 255 schools in the Nuba Mountains, a region in South Kordofan state. Now, there are less than 100. This is due both to direct targeting of the schools, as well as to the challenges of delivering services in the conflict region.
At least 17 villages in South Kordofan were burned over a six-month period. The village of Karkari Kain, home to 3,000 people, was destroyed in June.
The bombs also ruin crops and kill livestock. The threat of assault keeps civilians from working in the fields. Hunger rates are difficult to capture, but there is certainly great need. None of these issues was mentioned in the Independent Expert’s report.
The report also failed to cover the continued bombing campaign in Blue Nile. Nuba Reports estimates that over 500 bombs have been dropped on civilians areas in Blue Nile so far this year. An increase from last year.
Civilians have been killed and villages destroyed as Sudan has intensified its activity in the state. Bombing runs often last for hours and blanket the region. On May 18 more than 50 bombs were dropped across rebel-controlled territory. Nearly 40 were dropped on June 6. While controlled by rebel groups, the area is home to thousands of civilians
With no caves or mountains to shelter people from the bombs, families are forced to abandon towns enmasse. The three-year war raging in the region has pushed more than 150,000 into refugee camps in Ethiopia and South Sudan. A fact that was also not mentioned in the report. Another 200,000 are estimated to be internally displaced. This was not discussed in detail and no figures were offered in the Independent Expert’s report.
Inside Blue Nile, people subsist on what little food they can plant, and whatever grows in the wild. In some areas, residents are not buried in their clothes because families cannot afford to buy new shirts or pants. This desperation was not explicitly addressed. The Independent Expert only met with government officials in the Blue Nile, and was unable to talk to those whom the government has targeted.
DARFUR AND THE RAPID SUPPORT FORCE
The report does not mention specific human rights abuses committed by the Rapid Support Force, a paramilitary strike-force funded, armed and directed by the Sudanese government. The government in 2013 formed the group, using some 5,000 veterans of the Janjaweed campaigns against civilians in Darfur. RSF’s tactics and impact were never specifically addressed.
According to the United Nations, the RSF attacked and burned at least 30 villages southeast of Nyala on February 27 and 28. The UN said fighters targeted a bloc of villages largely populated by the Fur and Zaghawa ethnic groups. The attackers opened fire on unarmed civilians, killing dozens, burning down houses, looting property and forcing 40,000 to flee to IDP camps in Nyala.
The RSF then moved to North Darfur in machine-gun-mounted trucks, as well as horse and camelback. They burned more than 15 villages in the area, including the villages of Coma, Jamama, al-Daw, Aulad-Mokhtar, and Ammar Jadeed. They killed dozens of civilians and burned and looted all property, including livestock.
On March 22, over 2,000 people fled to a UN base following an attack on the town Khor Abeche in South Darfur. Again, the marauders killed civilians, burnt houses, and looted livestock.
Though it’s almost 400 miles away, South Kordofan has not escaped the wrath of the RSF. Just before the beginning of this year’s rainy season an estimated 80,000 were displaced as the militia went on a bloody ride through the region.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been affected by the indiscriminate government tactics in the conflicts across the country. These conflicts have spread in the last few years, and threaten to engulf even larger swathes of the country in the near future. For years, both international and national monitors have been forced to the sidelines.
One area where the report has received praise is in its coverage of the brutal crackdown on protesters in Khartoum and around Sudan last year. Over 200 civilians were killed and scores more injured when demonstrators took to the streets to after the government lifted critical subsidies on fuel.
While the Sudan and Western countries lobby for more or less access for the international monitor in Geneva, civilians living in the country’s many conflict zones wonder how much impact it will have.
“If the root causes are not solved, you can can’t extinguish a fire by putting grass on it,” explained an elder to a Nuba Reports journalist after his village in South Kordofan was destroyed by the RSF. “Tomorrow the fire will come again. The government of Sudan should look at the root causes of the war to fix the problem.”