Children bear brunt of alleged chemical weapon attacks in Sudan, says Amnesty

War crimes condemned as study uncovers horrifying evidence of chemical attacks by government forces-out on civilians, including babies and young children

Sudanese government forces-out have utilized chemical weapons repeatedly against civilians, including newborns and young children, in one of the most remote regions of Darfur over the past eight months, according to allegations documented by Amnesty International.

The alleged chemical assaults, believed to have killed up to 250 people, largely children, represent a new low in the catalogue of serious abuses perpetrated by government forces-out of the states of the region, said the human rights group.

The most recent of the alleged offensives recorded by the investigation occurred on 9 September. The assaults are ongoing, said Amnesty.

Using satellite images, more than 200 in-depth interviews by phone or internet, and expert analysis of dozens of distressing images demonstrating newborns and children with flayed and bloody scalp, the investigation claims that at least 30 chemical assaults have taken place in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur since January 2016.

Amnesty denounced what it called indiscriminate attacks on civilians by government troops as a war crime.

A spokesman for the Sudanese government denied any chemical weapon attacks had taken place. Dr Khalid al-Mubarak, the media attache at the Sudan embassy in London, said that fighting in the Jebel Marra district was the result of government troops trying to attack forces loyal to Abdul Wahid al-Nour, leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement.

There were no chemical attacks, told al-Mubarak. Jebel Marra was the only place in which there was any difficulty. Now the government has full control. There is now a civilian police station and the administration in Darfur is not returning to Jebel Marra.

Amnesty International has this information second hand. They have talked to people selectively.

Asked about allegations that up to 250 people have died as a result of the attacks, he told: Have they counted them? They have not. No chemical assaults happened.

But Tirana Hassan, Amnesty Internationals director of crisis research, said: 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 hollering with pain before succumbing. Many photos show young children contained within lesions and blisters. Some were unable to breathe and[ were] vomiting blood.

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. That Sudans government is now repeatedly using them against their own people simply cannot be ignored and demands action.

The report alleged that hundreds of survivors suffered symptoms including severe gastrointestinal conditions, bloody retch and diarrhoea, blistering and rashes on skin that was later lost, eye problems including a complete loss of vision and respiratory problems, reportedly the most common cause of death.

A woman in her twenties, injured by shrapnel when a bomb that emitted a toxic cloud of smoking fell on her village, said she and her newborn became sick and are still suffering six months later.

When[ the bomb] landed there were some flames and then dark smoking, she said. Immediately it caused vomiting and dizzying My scalp is not normal. I still have headaches, even after I took the medication The baby is not recovering he is swollen he has blisters and meanders they said he would get better but it is not working.

One man who helped to care for people apparently affected by chemicals told 19 people he cared for, including children, succumbed within a month of exposure. He told Amnesty he had been helping to care for victims of the conflict in Jebel Marra since it began in 2003, and had never seen such ailments before. All those who died experienced major changes to the scalp, he added. About half sustained wounds that turned green; the other half were affected by skin loss and weeping blisters.

The village of Karmal before and after the alleged assault( click on image to move between before and after images )
The village of Karmal before and after the alleged assault( click on image to move between before and after images ). The later image shows the village has been been almost completely razed by fire.

Amnesty said they were told the bombs were dropped from planes and rockets. Most of the 200 survivors they spoke to reported that the smoke from the weapons changed colour between five and 20 minutes after impact. Witnesses said it started very dark and then became lighter. Every survivor said the smoke smelled noxious. Employing satellite imagery, research reports concluded that up to 171 villages were destroyed or injury as a result of the eight-month campaign.

Two chemical weapons experts independently demonstrated photo, videos and witness witnes received credible evidence that chemical weapons agents were used in the attacks.Both concluded the clinical signs and symptoms they had watched and heard were consistent with a class of weapon known as blister agents, or vesicants, which includes sulphur mustard, nitrogen mustard and lewisite.

In a video interview, published alongside research reports, Dr Keith Ward, an independent chemical weapons expert, said: The pictures in conjunction with the eyewitness accounts, and in conjunction with a large constellation of clinical signs and symptoms of these victims, do give us enough information to construct us very certain that chemicals of some sort were involved in this attack.

We are certain that the kinds of traumata that weve find and the explanation for what people saw at the source of the two attacks could not be explained simply as a result of the explosive effect of conventional or incendiary munitions.

The report was a collaboration between Amnesty and Situ Research, an interdisciplinary studio that brings together geospatial info, satellite imagery, photographs and interviews.

Many victims told Amnesty they had no access to medicine and were being treated merely with a combination of salt, limes and local herbs.

The use of chemical weapons is a war crime said Hassan. The proof we have assembled is believable and portrays a regime that is intent on directing attacks against the civilian population in Darfur without any dread of international retribution.

Amnesty International has called on the UN security council to urgently analyse the alleged use of chemical weapons, ensure the arms embargo is implemented and apply political pressure on the Sudanese government to so that peacekeepers and humanitarian groups are allowed access to remote regions like Jebel Marra.

Jebel Marra, in the centre of Darfur, is a volcanic massif with an estimated 1,500 towns, the towns and hamlets. The UN Mission in Darfur, a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force-out, is present in the region but is unable to provide protection to any civilians against attacks in Jebel Marra beyond its northern base in Sortoni, research reports said.

The alleged attacks on villages in Jebel Marra were perpetrated by government soldiers and allied militias known as Janjaweed, according to witnesses, some of whom provided their lists of officials in charge. Other government forces-out allegedly included the Sudanese Armed Forces-out and Rapid Support Forces.

Amnesty said it was forced to conduct its research remotely, due to restrictions on access by the Sudanese government. The group told no journalist, humanitarian rights researcher or other humanitarian group has gained access to areas of Jebel Marra affected by the conflict in 2016.

Survivors and local human rights monitors provided the names of 367 civilians, including 95 children, who were killed in Jebel Marra by government forces in the first six months of the year, research reports said.

The report, which said the international communitys response to assaults on Darfur was deplorable, concluded: The government of Sudans ongoing assaults in Jebel Marra the latest in a series of military operations dating back to 2003 that have ravaged Darfurs civilian population are but the most recent illustration of a catastrophic pattern of violence.

Speaking in advance of such reports publishing, a UN peacekeeping official told no reports had been received of the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra. Despite repeated requests to the government of Sudan, including most recently last week by the joint special representative during his visit to Zalingei in central Darfur, the UN and the mission does not have access to conflict areas in Jebel Marra, said the official.

We are aware that the Amnesty International report is scheduled to be released and we would like to study it in detail before commenting.

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