Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 5 October 2016

A Step Too Far: Chemical warfare and the forgotten genocide of Darfur


By Abdul Wahid Mohammed Ahmed Al- Nur

To make war on its own citizens, to burn the villages and people of Darfur, the Sudanese Air Force has a marked preference for attacking at dawn. The Antonov transport planes converted into makeshift but nonetheless lethal bombers, now become the ubiquitous symbol of the Khartoum regime’s brutality; often arrive with the first light of day, drowning out birdsong with the roar of their engines soon followed by the shriek of the barrel bombs they disgorge to rain down death from high explosive and shrapnel. But since January when the Islamist dictatorship in Khartoum launched its largest military offensive in years in the mountains and plains of the Jebel Mara Mountain, there is a new dimension to the horror endured by the people of Darfur, in an ongoing genocide the world has all but forgotten, the spectre of chemical warfare.

Thus Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, the only sitting head of state on earth indicted by the International Criminal Court for War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide, now joins an exclusive murderous fraternity alongside Iraq’s late Saddam Hussein and contemporary Syria’s Bashar al Assad as the third national leader in modern history to use chemical weapons bombardments against his own civilian population.

The hard evidence of the Sudanese dictatorship’s use of chemical warfare gathered through eight months of painstaking investigation by Amnesty International in its groundbreaking report on the subject is incontrovertible. The burden of proof is a sickening catalog of humanity’s inhumanity to itself, revealed in the extensive eyewitness testimony of survivors, together with the graphic visual confirmation of the disfiguring wounds sustained by the victims who died in agonizing pain, the majority of them children. It cannot be readily dismissed by the usual denials issued by Khartoum. What has emerged in the light of day for all to see may not be buried in obfuscation. Nothing leaves the signature of chemical warfare except chemical warfare in the hideous manner that gas and chemical agents intended for offensive use ravage flesh and internal organs, burning, choking, blistering and smothering until death is a deliverance from unspeakable suffering. This is the truth of the latest war crime in a litany of war crimes inflicted on the people of Darfur, surely among the most forlorn anywhere on earth in the collective consciousness of the community of nations. Will this new threshold of horror at last bring resolute action by the outside world to end the misery of Darfur and hold the Sudanese regime accountable or will the international community simply avert its eyes again as it has done for far too many years?

If chemical warfare implemented against unarmed civilians fails to provoke an unequivocal response by the world’s leading democracies, what hope is there for the people of Darfur to obtain justice, secure their freedom and see an end to a policy of deliberate extermination, where they may once more live without fear in peace, dignity and security? More than Five hundred thousand dead since the nightmare began in 2003, twenty thousand villages wiped off the map in an unceasing scorched earth campaign and four million refugees and internally displaced people, living in the most abject conditions on the edge of survival, tens of thousands women and minors gang-raped have all thus far been insufficient to bring forth a greater outcry and meaningful change.

So where is the voice of the West? The United States which correctly first decried events in Darfur as genocide, is conspicuously silent now, a position defined by the State Department as the de-coupling of Sudan’s egregious human rights record and long patronage of Salafist terror groups in exchange for cooperation in intelligence gathering on the same extremist Islamist groups operating in the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. Omar al Bashkir’s hope is that crippling sanctions will ultimately be lifted and Washington in time will be persuaded to remove Khartoum from its blacklist of terrorist sponsoring nations, restoring its international reputation. The ironic, counter-intuitive reality of this rapprochement is that Khartoum has not ceased its patronage and alliance with extremist Islam in any respect true to the duplicitous and opportunistic nature of Omar al Bashir’s regime. It is the worst possible form of Real politic, not merely cynical but equally ineffective. Washington’s aims in its legitimate efforts to contain and defeat Islamist terror will not be advanced by sacrificing the people of Darfur.

This understated process of rehabilitating the Sudanese dictatorship is concurrently also underway in the European Union. Most glaringly as the latest Sudanese offensive began in January, the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin fully aware of events on the ground in Darfur, hosted a delegation from Khartoum. Meanwhile the British government has been quietly training members of the Sudanese security services, in particular officers in military intelligence who figure prominently as henchmen in Darfur. But nothing is more staggering than the funding which may surpass 145 million Euros openly awarded by the European Union to Khartoum to stem the flow of refugees from the African continent to European shores, where the same soldiers, policemen, border guards and partner militias who regularly perpetrate massacres, extra-judicial executions torture and rape en masse in Darfur serve as gatekeepers for the EU.

US Ambassador to the UN Samatha Powers recently eloquently condemned the Russian aerial bombing campaign over Aleppo as barbarism, the same Samantha powers who was once so vocal over the plight of Darfur, just as now outgoing President Barak Obama, whom as a candidate had once pledged to end the stain on our conscience of Darfur, is today himself just as reticent on the subject.

The Sudan Liberation Movement in its struggle to uplift its people from oppression and build a secular, non-sectarian, non-tribal, pluralistic democratic Sudan, free from authoritarianism, extremism and terror, where human rights and a free society may one day flourish, implores the United States to restore its moral leadership in Darfur and abide by the humanistic and democratic values it upholds. The SLM therefore calls on President Barak Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Ambassador Samantha Power to demand that the international community forthwith establish a no fly zone over Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile State, a commission be established to oversee the dismantling of Sudanese chemical weapons stocks, the embargo imposed by Khartoum on humanitarian supplies be lifted , Khartoum’s Janjaweed and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militias be disarmed and that Sudanese government troops and their partner militias cease attacking civilian population centers.

The author is the Chairman of Sudan Liberation Movement. he can be reached at

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