The landscape in southern Blue Nile state is pockmarked by bomb craters and dotted with empty villages. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes to escape a war between the government and insurgents. But many say the government has targeted the entire civilian population.
Sitting under the shade of a tree, Omar Idris lifts his shirt to show a large scar stitched across his chest.
“I was with my donkey looking for water,” he recalls of the September bombing raid. “The plane came and I didn’t know what kind of plane it was at that time and I didn’t care.
It just started bombing and the donkey was immediately killed and, as you see, I was hurt in my hand and my chest as well.”
Omar is one of about 100,000 people displaced within Blue Nile state. He lives in a temporary settlement with others from villages in the area. They’ve built makeshift shelters in the forest so the bombers won’t be able to spot them from the air.
More than 100,000 people have fled Blue Nile to refugee camps in South Sudan and Ethiopia. Among the more than 50,000 people in Doro camp, in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state, is Abusaid Tassir. He was also injured in a bombing attack. He still has shrapnel embedded in his back and his thigh, and he’s got a bandaged wrapped around his foot.
“When this bomb fell, I saw my blood was running. Then I looked at my foot and I could see the wound was open,” he says.
People have fled across the border not only to escape the bombing. Some have horrific tales of abuse they witnessed or suffered at the hands of the Sudanese government’s security forces.
Burned to death
Issa Daffala Sobahi was working as a guard for a politician aligned with the state governor, Malik Agar. After Khartoum deposed Agar, witnesses say security forces began to arrest people they suspected of being affiliated with his party, which has since taken up arms against the government.
Sobahi was arrested and brought to a military detention centre in the state capital, Damazin. He says he managed to escape from a fenced yard where about 400 people being held. While he was there he witnessed two men burned to death, and a woman killed with her baby by Arab militias.
Human Rights Watch says witness testimonies suggest that hundreds of people were rounded up. Witnesses describe beatings, torture and executions. About 200 are still missing or detained by government forces.
“These were very serious cases that were described to us of people being killed point blank at close range within the detention centre by a Sudanese military official,” says Jehanne Henry, the organization’s Sudan researcher. “In addition to ending the bombing and allowing aid in, Human Rights Watch is calling for an investigation into the events in Blue Nile.”
The Sudan government has dismissed such claims as rebel propaganda. But it has also refused to let aid groups, journalists or researchers to enter the state legally. For now, witnesses testimonies can only hint at what Human Rights Watch says are crimes against humanity.