Chemical weapons are being used against the Darfuris. This is a war crime
The research, which used extensive satellite imagery analysis as well as more than 200 detailed interviews with witnesses, revealed a troubling picture. The Sudanese armed forces have carried out widespread attacks on hundreds of villages, committing war crimes and gross human rights violations including bombing, killings, rapes and the use of scorched-earth tactics.
We also found substantial evidence – the photos included – of the use of chemical weapons being used to kill and maim civilians, including children.
Amnesty International has not taken the decision to publish these deeply disturbing photos lightly: we believe the horrific war crimes being committed in Darfur require concerted action on the part of the international community.
Once the cause celebre of many in the west, Darfur seems to have dropped off the global agenda in recent years. The fact that the region is under the watch of one of the largest peacekeeping forces in the world, and that earlier this month Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, proclaimed that peace had returned to the troubled region, make Amnesty’s findings all the more galling.
After all, we are talking about the same types of war crimes that first catapulted Darfur into the world’s consciousness in 2004. But this is 13 years later; and the attacks we’ve documented happened between January and September 2016. The most recent was on 9 September 2016; just a few weeks ago and the day after Bashir’s lofty proclamation.
And if the use of chemical weapons is confirmed, this would represent a new level of barbarity in the conflict, and a new depth to the range of suffering endured by the Darfuri people. One woman described how her baby was still sick some six months after exposure to what she described as “poisoned air”.
“The baby is not recovering … he is swollen … he has blisters and wounds,” she said. “The [medical staff] say he will get better if he drinks [breast] milk … but it is not working.”
Chemical weapons have been banned for decades at the international level in recognition of the fact that the suffering they cause can never be justified. Credible evidence that Sudan’s government might now repeatedly be using them simply cannot be ignored.
More than a decade ago, the international criminal court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Bashir on three counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes. And yet, the president has since won two elections and travelled regularly, including to Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. As signatories to the Rome statute which created the ICC, each of these countries had a duty to arrest Bashir on his arrival. None of them did.
Absolutely no effective measures have ever been put in place to protect civilians in Darfur despite being under the watch of a joint African Union and United Nations peacekeeping mission (Unamid). Peace talks and agreements have brought no security or respite for the Darfuri people.
The response of the international community in the last 10 years has been utterly deplorable and in the face of such an ineffective reaction, it is little wonder that Al-Bashir’s hubris has grown.
In the light of this shocking new evidence, and on the eve of the UN security council meeting in New York, we are calling on it to do more to protect the children, men and women of Darfur.
It can do this by applying political pressure on the government of Sudan to ensure that the Unamid peacekeeping force, as well as humanitarian agencies, can access parts of Darfur such as Jebel Marra, where some of the worst abuses appear to be happening. There need to be more peacekeeping bases, and they must be able to conduct proactive patrols deep into these remote areas.
There also needs to be an urgent investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra and, if there is sufficient evidence, prosecutions of all those suspected of criminal responsibility must follow.
Bashir must learn that there are consequences when crimes under international law are committed. There has been 13 years of catastrophic violence and recurring human rights violations; it’s time the world set its focus, once more, on Darfur and act.