An investigation carried out by Amnesty International has uncovered evidence suggesting the Sudanese government have repeatedly used chemical weapons against civilians over the past eight months. The use of such weapons is illegal under international law and regarded as a war crime.
After interviewing over 200 survivors and analyzing satellite imagery, the rights group concluded there has been at least 30 likely chemical attacks between January and September 2016. They have been centred primarily in a remote region of Darfur, called Jebel Marra and the death toll from exposure is estimated to be between 200 and 250, with the majority being young children.
Survivors contracted serious health issues after exposure, including vomiting blood and diarrhoea, skin conditions, vision problems and respiratory problems. One woman said her children suffered severely following an attack on her village of Burro.
“Several bombs fell around the village and in the hills… Most of my kids are sick from the smoke of the bombardment. They got sick on the day of the attack. They vomited and they had diarrhoea. They were coughing a lot… Their skin turned dark like it was burned,” she said.
Amnesty said independent chemical weapons experts who have analyzed the evidence have concluded that the findings suggest people have been exposed to vesicants, or blister agents, such as the chemical warfare agents sulfur mustard, lewisite or nitrogen mustard.
“The scale and brutality of these attacks is hard to put into words. The images and videos we have seen in the course of our research are truly shocking; in one a young child is screaming with pain before dying; many photos show young children covered in lesions and blisters. Some were unable to breathe and vomiting blood,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s director of crisis research.
“It is hard to exaggerate just how cruel the effects of these chemicals are when they come into contact with the human body. Chemical weapons have been banned for decades in recognition of the fact that the level of suffering they cause can never be justified. The fact that Sudan’s government is now repeatedly using them against their own people simply cannot be ignored and demands action.”
Amnesty said that the United Nations Security Council should immediately launch an investigation and prosecute those responsible. It also called on the UN to place political pressure on Sudan’s government to allow peacekeepers access to remote areas, like Jebel Marra, and extend the current arms embargo to cover the whole country.
Sudan denied the allegations saying that they are fabricated and unfounded. Foreign Ministry Under-Secretary, Abdel-Ghani al-Na’im told the Sudan news agency (SUNA) that the report is a “desperate attempt to draw attention away from the peace, security and stability that has been achieved in Darfur”.
War has raged in Darfur since 2003 when rebel groups took up arms against the government, accusing them of oppressing the non-Arab population. The UN estimates that starvation, disease and combat have killed at least 300,000.
This year the government launched a major military campaign in Jebel Marra after accusing the rebel groups of numerous attacks on the military and civilians. Since the offensive was launched there have been reports of government forces deliberately targeting civilians and civilian properties.
Figures from the UN show that up to 194,000 have been displaced in Jebel Marra since January and a recent report found the government guilty of violating an arms embargo sanction, which aims to restrict a number of weapons including the use of cluster munitions. It also found the government has been responsible for a number of human rights violations, including financing armed groups who have been responsible for violent attacks on civilians.
(Writing by Steve Shaw; Editing by Robyn Hunter & Wenzel Frick)