Witnesses reported that attacks continue on civilian populations in South Sudan, even as the United Nations calls for a thorough investigation into violations of international law carried out in South Kordofan state in June.
“I would like to appeal to the United Nations Security Council to provide immediate protection to the civilians in South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains. People are now being displaced every day to the mountains by government air strikes,” a survivor of a Sudanese Air Force (SAF) air strike told Radio Dabanga on Wednesday after the bombing of some villages in South Kordofan, part of the nascent state of South Sudan.
Those violations, if substantiated, are said to amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes, according to a preliminary report issued Monday by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the former U.N. Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).
The report describes a wide range of alleged violations of international law by government troops in the town of Kadugli, as well as in the surrounding Nuba Mountains, after fighting broke out in Kadugli on Jun. 5 between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army North (SPLA-N).
Alleged violations comprise “extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and illegal detention, enforced disappearances, attacks against civilians, looting of civilian homes, destruction of property as well as massive displacement.”
The preliminary report only covers the month of June, but there is evidence that civilian lives are still at risk. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) had earlier this month confirmed repeated shelling carried out by the SAF in South Kordofan.
Sudan’s Arab government in Khartoum dismissed the U.N. report, calling it “malicious” and “unfounded”, the day after its release. Justice Minister Mohamed Bushara Dosa said a special committee would be created to assess human rights in the conflict-ridden area.
According to Matt Chancey, director of the Persecution Project Foundation, a Christian aid group, the U.N. should declare a humanitarian crisis and resume aid flights.
He said there is no doubt that the ongoing attacks against South Sudan fall under the category of war crimes. “There is already enough evidence provided by many credible, seasoned reporters and humanitarian workers of war crimes being committed in the Nuba Mountains. Pictures, video, and personal testimony is readily available,” Chancey said.
He urged the international community to institute a “no-fly” zone and said humanitarian flights should resume to assist refugees and internally displaced. “The longer it takes for this to happen, the greater the humanitarian crisis will be in the future as fields lie uncultivated due to the threat of aerial bombardment,” he added.
More than 400,000 civilians have been displaced. Official figures from the U.N. are lower, but they do not account for the many thousands of people driven from their homes to the shelter of nearby rocky hills, fleeing from aerial bombings, the Persecution Project Foundation reported.
One result is that farmers will be unable to cultivate their fields during the upcoming crucial rainy season. And because Khartoum is denying access to all relief organisations, observers expect the situation will continue to deteriorate.
“This means a humanitarian disaster looms in the coming months when thousands of families face food shortages,” Chancey said.
On Wednesday, the Satellite Sentinel Project, led by a U.S.-based group, released images of what appear to be two piles of corpses wrapped in body bags on a mountainside in Kadugli, South Kordofan state’s capital, Voice of America reported.
Experts say that a ceasefire must be declared soon. Both the SPLA-N and the SPLM-N agreed to seek a cessation of hostilities in a document also signed by Sudan’s government in late June.
However, on Jul. 1, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir dismissed the agreement and declared that the “cleansing” – literally translated from the Arabic – of the Nuba Mountains would continue.
“The only way in which genocide in South Kordofan can be halted is if there is a concerted, robust international pressure exerted upon the Khartoum regime,” Eric Reeves, a Sudan expert, analyst and author of several publications on the subject, said.
However, he said that there is no indication that the international community is prepared to exert this kind of pressure.
“The fighting will continue as long as Khartoum thinks it may achieve its goals militarily,” Reeves added. “I believe that Khartoum wishes to annihilate the African Nuba people.”
Chancey said, “the primary reason the war started was because the National Congress Party (NCP) Governor-elect in Southern Kordofan – and indicted war criminal – Ahmed Haroun ordered all SPLM/A forces out of Southern Kordofan by Jun. 1, in direct violation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which allows the SPLM/A to operate in Southern Kordofan until 90 days after the expiration of the CPA on Jul. 9 this year”.
When the SPLM/A refused to leave, Haroun’s forces tried to disarm them by force, triggering the current conflict.
“The NCP wants this war. This is the same regime that killed more than two million South Sudanese during the last war. This is the same regime that killed 500,000 Nuba people in the 1990s. This is the same regime that has so far killed 400,000 Darfur citizens,” Chancey said.