Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 18 October 2016

Chemical Weapons Use in Darfur: The World walks away


By Eric Reeves

Despite overwhelming evidence of Khartoum’s use of chemical weapons in the Jebel Marra region of Darfur (western Sudan), the international community seems to be quietly walking away from its responsibility to investigate. A report released on September 29 by Amnesty International contains numerous (and painfully similar) photographs of victims, interviews with victims and witnesses, and assessments by two experts in non-conventional weapons. The descriptions of the release of poisonous gases are relentlessly congruent detail; Amnesty relied on more than 250 interviews of people from the region in painting a larger picture of wholesale civilian destruction; 57 of these spoke directly to the issue of chemical weapons use in 32 different attacks. And the photographs.... They are simply soul-destroying in the human agony they reveal. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a “moral obscenity.” Despite the authority of the Amnesty report, such language is conspicuously absent in the case of Darfur.

Indeed, over the past week the chances of an investigation of these clear violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention—to which Sudan is a signatory—have clearly diminished. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), with a self-described mandate to “implement the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention,” failed in Executive session last week to reach agreement to push for an investigation. Ultimately this is a decision not so much of the powerless OPCW but of the signatory nations to the CWC whose political support is essential to initiative an investigation. In the event, it appears such support was weak or non-existent.

Various nations—including the U.S., France, Great Britain, and Canada—have signaled their concern; but a plan mooted to have the four countries push together for an investigation evidently failed. While all profess support for any investigation that is mounted, this amounts to little. For the UN is paralyzed, not only by the conspicuous divisions in the Security Council, but by the fact that the UN presence in Darfur takes the form of the UN/African Union “Hybrid” Mission for Darfur (UNAMID).

UNAMID formally took up its mandate in January 2008, with a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed by Khartoum that nominally gives UNAMID to investigate anywhere, and at any time, in Darfur. But the SOFA was a grim ruse by Khartoum: from the beginning UNAMID has prevented on countless occasions, including in fulfilling its primary mandate of civilian protection. It has been denied access to most of the Jebel Marra region for years, and in particular the areas where Amnesty International reported specific locations of chemical weapons attacks. During these attacks, as many as 250 people were killed, disproportionately children. The deaths, as well as the permanent injuries, are horrific beyond description. The number of deaths and injuries likely far exceeds what Amnesty was able to confirm by interviews from outside Sudan, to which it has long been denied access.

UNAMID has declared, whether out of unforgiveable ignorance or mendacity, that it has seen no evidence of chemical weapons use—none whatsoever according to Martin Uhomoibhi, the Nigerian head of mission. But of course UNAMID—a mission that has failed badly, even now can’t secure access to Jebel Marra, and has been marked by corruption, deception, and ghastly sell-promotion—has a considerable stake in denying the use of chemical weapons so close to its various bases on the perimeter of Jebel Marra. There is simply no reason, given past reporting (and non-reporting) history to take UNAMID’s claims seriously.

Darfur and Historical Precedent

Darfur has defined a number of grim precedents during the period of gross violence against civilians that began in 2003: it is the longest genocide in over a century; it has occurred despite compelling reports of the genocidal nature of Khartoum’s counter-insurgency strategy from the first months of ethnically-targeted civilian destruction; it is a conflict that has generated more flouted UN Security Council resolutions that other in the history of the UN; the peacekeeping mission meant to respond to the catastrophe in Darfur is certainly the most dismal failure in the history of the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UN DPKO), despite being one of the most expensive; and Darfur is the first ongoing genocide of which the world simply tired. Once the focus of concerted civil society, human rights, news media, and celebrity attention, Darfur is now known chiefly by virtue of the reporting of two Sudanese news outlets—Radio Dabanga and Sudan Tribune. No journalists or human rights groups are allowed into Darfur.

Chemical weapons use should have been a catalyst for renewed interest in the relentless and massive violence perpetrated against the marginalized populations of Sudan. For the Jebel Marra offensive was far from the first time that chemical weapons use has been authoritatively reported. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) recently published a substantial account very recently about chemical weapons use by Khartoum in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, and as long as ago as 2000, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported Khartoum’s bombing of civilian hospitals in what is now South Sudan, and identified what were clearly chemical weapons used during these attacks.

Instead, what we see throughout Europe and in the U.S. is a growing rapprochement with the Khartoum regime, one that sees, for example, Germany building “concentration camps” in Sudan to help staunch the flow of African refugees; the European Union as a whole has agreed to provide high-tech monitoring and registration equipment to Khartoum’s notoriously brutal National Intelligence and Security Services. The U.S.—in its lust for whatever counter-terrorism intel Khartoum can provide—moves steadily closer to normalization of relations, a lifting of economic sanctions, and removal of Sudan from the State Department’s annual listing of “state sponsors of terrorism,” a listing that continues to be justified by much of Khartoum’s behavior (e.g., in Libya).

What should be a situation obviously demanding investigation per the terms of the CWC has instead become a moment for a subtle dance of avoidance. Chemically gassed Syrian children are no more a “moral obscenity” than gassed Darfuri children, but this seems an equation that escapes John Kerry, President Obama, and too many international leaders.

Will Khartoum resist an investigation? Of course—and strenuously. The sheer military and logistical challenges to an investigation may be insurmountable if Khartoum resists. But that is no excuse for acquiescing in well-documented war crimes that are part of a larger campaign of genocide. An investigation must be demanded, and Khartoum made to deny that investigation before the eyes of the world. Perhaps that will bring some moral and political clarity to those fashioning policy toward this barbaric regime.

Eric Reeves has written extensively on Sudan for almost two decades; he is a Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights.

The views expressed in the 'Comment and Analysis' section are solely the opinions of the writers. The veracity of any claims made are the responsibility of the author not Sudan Tribune.

If you want to submit an opinion piece or an analysis please email it to comment@sudantribune.com

Sudan Tribune reserves the right to edit articles before publication. Please include your full name, relevant personal information and political affiliations.
Comments on the Sudan Tribune website must abide by the following rules. Contravention of these rules will lead to the user losing their Sudan Tribune account with immediate effect.

- No inciting violence
- No inappropriate or offensive language
- No racism, tribalism or sectarianism
- No inappropriate or derogatory remarks
- No deviation from the topic of the article
- No advertising, spamming or links
- No incomprehensible comments

Due to the unprecedented amount of racist and offensive language on the site, Sudan Tribune tries to vet all comments on the site.

There is now also a limit of 400 words per comment. If you want to express yourself in more detail than this allows, please e-mail your comment as an article to comment@sudantribune.com

Kind regards,

The Sudan Tribune editorial team.

The following ads are provided by Google. SudanTribune has no authority on it.

Sudan Tribune

Promote your Page too

Latest Comments & Analysis

Bring Sudanese troops home now 2018-04-21 15:25:57 By Salah Shuaib The Sudanese troops fighting hard now in Yemen, who were sent there by order of al-Bashir, should return home. The process of implementing this task is much challenging. But, we (...)

Dissolution and formation of the Cabinet - 2013 2018-04-20 08:00:00 Amb Telar Deng The events that led to the 2013 dissolution of cabinet can be traced back to the deep mistrust that fermented back in 1991 when leaders failed to close ranks. After the 1991 (...)

The Darfur issue remains in oblivion 2018-04-20 07:36:49 By Mahmoud A. Suleiman The victims and survivors of the atrocious crimes in the Darfur region where very few in the world cares for their plight continue feeling trapped, no way out but at the (...)


Latest Press Releases

Abyei celebrates Mine Awareness Day 2018-04-05 08:52:03 4 April 2018 | Abyei - The United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) and the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) commemorated the International Day for Mine Awareness and (...)

Appeal for forgiveness and pardon of John Agou Wuoi 2018-03-07 08:28:08 H.E. Salva Kiir Mayardit, President and Commander-in-Chief, of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), Republic of South Sudan (RSS), 5th February, 2018. Through: Hon. Michael Makuei Lueth (...)

Petition for release of Agou John Wuoi from prison 2018-02-15 20:45:31 Open letter to South Sudan President Salva Kiir Your Excellency, Kindly please permit me to take this rare opportunity to appreciate you for every effort you have made toward making South Sudan (...)


Copyright © 2003-2018 SudanTribune - All rights reserved.