Home | Reports    Tuesday 24 September 2013

They bombed everything that moved



This is the fifth update to my original May 6, 2011 report and data spreadsheet; collectively, the reports and data attempt to render as completely as possible all confirmed aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarians working in what is now Sudan and South Sudan. The attacks recorded here are all the responsibility of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum, which this year marked its 24th year in power following the June 30, 1989 military coup.

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They bombed everything that moved

The motivation for this schematic history and archival project continues to be the intolerable singularity of Khartoum’s sustained, deliberate, and unconstrained aerial attacks on Sudanese civilians and relief workers over many years—this along with the conviction that the profound anonymity of nearly all victims of these attacks is morally unacceptable: they deserve some reckoning, some accounting, some identifiable part in this unspeakably grim history of incidents that together constitute crimes against humanity.

As I argue, and believe the facts amply demonstrate, such a sustained aerial military strategy—profoundly destructive in its consequences—has no historical precedent or parallel anywhere in the world. The current outrage over atrocities in Syria seems quite uncomprehending—or ignorant—of the much greater, more destructive, and more enduring conflict in Darfur; the particular character of Khartoum’s aerial attacks is the subject of the first two sections of this update. The "moral obscenity" of chemical weapons used against civilians in Syria, deplored by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and others, can be no more "obscene" than the ongoing and often deliberate aerial targeting of civilians and humanitarians. What we have seen in Syria over the past two and a half years pales before the suffering and loss of human lives and livelihoods in Darfur over the past decade. International weariness with the conflict cannot diminish its terrible realities. The implicit suggestion by the unctuous Kerry and others seems to be that the significance of a child who dies a terrible death from chemical weapons is greater than that of a child eviscerated by bomb shrapnel that leaves her to die a slow, agonizing death. The comparison, even if implicit, is despicably invidious.

Geostrategic calculations of national self-interest on the part of the U.S., as well as the nations of the EU, the Arab League, and the African Union ensure that the western part of Sudan will see no commensurate language of outrage; this is true even as a number of the attacks reported recorded here give strong evidence of the use of chemical weapons. Such reports have been continually forthcoming following an emphatic finding by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in South Sudan in 1999.

As I noted in the original version of this report, the use of chemical weapons by Khartoum has never been properly investigated by the UN; nor has the international community pushed effectively for such investigation. Despite very strong prima facie evidence that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) had engaged in chemical warfare on a number of occasions, a decade after the end of the Iraqi Anfal the international community again showed no interest in investigating:
MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders] is particularly worried about the use or alleged use of prohibited weapons (such as cluster bombs and chemical bombs) that have indiscriminate effect. The allegations regarding the use of chemical bombs started on 23 July 1999, when the villages of Lainya and Loka (Yei County) were bombed with chemical products. In a reaction to this event, a group of non-governmental organizations had taken samples on the 30th of July, and on the 7th of August; the United Nations did the same.
Although the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is competent and empowered to carry out such an "investigation of alleged use," it needs an official request made by another State Party. [N.B.] To date, we deplore that OPCW has not received any official request from any State Party to investigate, and that since the UN sample-taking, no public statement has been made concerning these samples or the results of the laboratory tests.
MSF offers several eyewitness accounts of chemical weapons in bombs, including a grim narrative of events in Yei County (now Central Equatoria):
The increase of the bombings on the civilian population and civilian targets in 1999 was accompanied by the use of cluster bombs and weapons containing chemical products. On 23 July 1999, the towns of Lainya and Loka (Yei County) were bombed with chemical products. At the time of this bombing, the usual subsequent results (i.e., shrapnel, destruction to the immediate environment, impact, etc.) did not take place. [Rather], the aftermath of this bombing resulted in a nauseating, thick cloud of smoke, and later symptoms such as children and adults vomiting blood and pregnant women having miscarriages were reported.
[N.B.]: These symptoms of the victims leave no doubt as to the nature of the weapons used. Two field staff of the World Food Program (WFP) who went back to Lainya, three days after the bombing, had to be evacuated on the 27th of July. They were suffering from nausea, vomiting, eye and skin burns, loss of balance and headaches.
After this incident, the WFP interrupted its operations in the area, and most of the humanitarian organizations that are members of the Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) had to suspend their activities after the UN had declared the area to be dangerous for its personnel.
MSF concludes:
[E]vidence has been found and serious allegations have been made that [N.B.] weapons of internationally prohibited nature are regularly employed against the civilian population, such as cluster bombs and bombs with "chemical contents."
(Living under aerial bombardments: Report of an investigation in the Province of Equatoria, Southern Sudan, February 20, 2000)

Let us be clear, then: "chemical weapons" are a "moral obscenity," a "violation of international norms," only when a particular sort of people are victims. That we have so many reports of savagely destructive aerial attacks in Darfur, in many cases strongly suggestive of chemical weaponry, makes the hypocrisy of the international community on this issue painfully clear. All reports indicating the possible use of chemical weapons in Darfur during the period covered by this update have been highlighted ( §§§ ) in the last section (VII). There are many earlier such reports of chemical weapons being used in Darfur; there has been nothing, however, from the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), charged with monitoring a ban on military flights over Darfur (UN Security Council Resolution 1591, March 2005) and presumably violations of the Chemical Weapons Conventions of 1993, to which the Khartoum regime is nominally a signatory.

Notes for this update

Highlighting of terms and data records

For the present update I have focused exclusively on Darfur; subsequent updates will treat data and reports on bombing in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and aerial attacks on the territory of the sovereign nation of South Sudan, which became an independent country in July 2011.

I have generally put in bold the most important proper names, dates, numbers, ethnicities, and geographical locations on first appearance in a given section within this report. All emphases have been added by the author and appear as bold italics. For even greater emphasis I have sometimes used the abbreviation for the Latin nota bene ("note well"), N.B. mechanical, grammatical, and idiomatic errors have sometimes been silently corrected for clarity. The data spreadsheet to which the update refers includes all confirmed aerial attacks from the original report and its four subsequent updates; all can be found here. An updated spreadsheet—including data subsequent to June 2012—will consolidate data from all reports in all areas but does not presently include the data from this update on Darfur.

Research to date indicates that there have been more than 2,000 confirmed aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarians by military forces of the current regime. These are, in all likelihood, only a small percentage of attacks that have actually occurred, but represent what the data and available sources will permit by way of confirmation.

Sections of this update

Preface and Notes

I. Aerial attacks in Darfur continue undiminished

II. Consequences to date and the course of future human destruction

III. Continuing violent hostility toward international humanitarian organizations in Darfur and greater Sudan

IV. Aircraft and munitions in use in Darfur and greater Sudan

V. The near-term future for Darfur and greater Sudan: The Abyei Crisis

VI. Context for reports of aerial attacks from Radio Dabanga and other sources

VII. COMPENDIUM: Bombing reports, accounts, dispatches

VIII. Sources and bibliographies for bombing reports

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