UN says 'condemnation is insufficient' for atrocities in Sudan's South Kordofan

A UN report seen by the Enough Project details executions of civilians, assault of UN personnel, and forced displacement of populations, acts that may be war crimes and crimes against humanity.

By , Guest blogger

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    In this Digital Globe satellite image made available by the Satellite Sentinel Project Thursday and analyzed by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, a dug-up site in Sudan appears to be a mass grave. The group said it had photographic evidence and witness testimony indicating that systematic killings and mass burials are taking place in South Kordofan.
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Since fighting broke out in the volatile Sudanese state of South Kordofan on June 5, accounts trickling out from the largely sealed-off war zone have attested to the Sudanese army, or SAF, and other affiliated government forces killing and committing other acts of violence against its civilians. Information out of the area continues to remain scarce and difficult to confirm.

In the most comprehensive cataloguing of gross human rights violations committed in the conflict so far, a June UNMIS (United Nations Mission in Sudan) human rights report seen by Enough provides gruesome details of brazen executions of civilians, intimidation and assault of UN personnel, and forced returns and displacement of populations, all acts that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Many of the report’s findings point to the deliberate targeting of civilians because of their political and/or ethnic affiliations. The ranks of the SPLA (Sudanese People's Liberation Army) in South Kordofan are largely filled with Nuba, and many Nuba support the SPLA’s political wing, the SPLM (Sudanese People's Liberation Movement). The report documents government forces summarily executing, abducting, detaining, and abusing civilians suspected of being SPLM sympathizers, bombing densely-inhabited civilian areas, and laying land mines in known SPLM neighborhoods. The report notes that witnesses and victims say that government forces have a list of Nubans wanted for being sympathetic to the SPLM/A; another incident in the report says UN staff being detained were “shown photographs of UN national staff and requested to confirm whether they were inside UNMIS compound.”

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Here are excerpts from the report:

On 8 June, a man was shot several times and killed in full public view at the Kadugli Police Hospital. He had gone to the hospital in an attempt to try to find his three missing children whom he believed were inside the premises. The victim was an active SPLM member and sat on the SPLM elections committee. According to eye witnesses, two other persons were also shot and killed in front of the Police Hospital in a similar manner. ...

A young woman of Nuban descent informed UNMIS Human Rights that she was arrested in the vicinity of the Kadugli Police Headquarters on 20 June. During her detention she was interrogated about her work with an international NGO and accused of being a SPLM supporter while police beat her with fists, sticks, rubber hoses and electric wires. UNMIS Human Rights noted the bruises and scars on the woman’s neck and back consistent with her statements. ...

On 8 June, UNMIS Human Rights witnessed the movement of four armed men (two armed civilians and two Central Reserve Police) carrying weapons in and out of the UNMIS Protective Perimeter without any intervention from the UNMIS peacekeepers guarding the premises. The armed men conducted identity checks on the IDPs. Eyewitnesses interviewed reported that the armed men abducted three IDPs from the vicinity of the UNMIS Protective Perimeter on suspicion that they were supporters of the SPLM.

“The attacks on UNMIS, its staff and assets are so egregious that condemnation is insufficient,” the report states. Multiple incidents in which UN staff were assaulted, detained, threatened, or even killed, were documented in the report:

On 8 June, an UNMIS independent contractor (IC) was pulled out of a vehicle by SAF in front of the UNMIS Kadugli Sector IV Compound in the presence of several witnesses, while UN peacekeepers could not intervene. He was taken around the corner of the compound and gunshots were heard. Later he was discovered dead by UNMIS personnel and IDPs. Several sources confirmed that the victim was an active SPLM member. ...

On 7 June, an UNMIS truck was stopped at a checkpoint near the UNMIS Sector IV compound. Three of the ten IDPs who had been assisting UNMIS personnel with loading supplies for IDPs were pulled out of the truck and beaten up by SAF personnel. An UNMIS staff member who attempted to intervene was threatened at gunpoint by one of the soldiers who asked him “do you want to stay or leave”. The UN personnel drove off with the seven remaining IDPs. The fate of the three IDPs remains unknown.

In one incident, after UN military observers (UNMOs) on their way to verify a mass grave were detained, interrogated, searched, and forced to strip by SAF, they were subject to a mock execution:

A SAF Captain instructed the UNMOs to line up and be killed. He removed the safety of his AK-47, and just as he was about to point the weapon towards the UNMOs, a SAF Major entered the room and ordered him not to shoot. Immediately following the intervention the officer with the gun shouted “UNMIS leave Southern Kordofan, if not we will kill you if you come back here.” The team was released and told not to return back to Kadugli town.

As the report itself notes, the 19-page document is nowhere near exhaustive, with one of the biggest revelations being that the true scale and extent of violence is only beginning to surface. In one alarming account in the report, an UNMIS staff member attests to seeing over 150 dead Nuba scattered on the grounds of the military compound where he was being detained by the Sudanese army. The report says, “Some of the bodies appeared to have bullet wounds and he reported a large quantity of blood on the ground. [The UNMIS staff member] reported a SAF soldier told them they had all been shot dead.”

Just today, the Satellite Sentinel Project provided the first images of what appear to be mass graves and body bags. An independent and comprehensive investigation into the violations in South Kordofan that brings to account those most responsible is a key recommendation of the report.

It is also important to note that the UN report comes down clearly on Sudanese government forces as the main perpetrators of the abuses, a message that leaders and policymakers around the world who continue to toe a line of moral equivocation should take heed of:

Although both parties to the conflict have engaged in acts against civilians throughout the course of the recent conflict in Southern Kordofan (…) it is the conduct of the SAF [that] has been especially egregious. Instead of distinguishing between civilians and combatants and accordingly directly their military operations only against military targets, the SAF and allied paramilitary forces have targeted members and supporters of the SPLM/A, most of whom are Nubans and other dark skinned people. (…)

The International Community cannot afford to remain silent in the face of such deliberate attacks by the Government of Sudan against its own people. If the current conduct of the SAF, especially the aerial bombardments, does not stop, it will dissipate the Nuban population in Southern Kordofan.

--- Amanda Hsiao blogs for the Enough Project at Enough Said.

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