Action for Chemical Weapons in Darfur

Over the past 13 years, the people of Darfur have suffered unimaginable violence at the hands of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his military. Officially labeled a genocide by the international community, efforts have been made to bring an end to the violence. The first-ever hybrid United Nations/African Union mission was launched, peace deals were struck, and it seemed progress was being made. But our attention span is limited, and the conflict in Sudan is complicated.

Today, Darfur has become known as the forgotten genocide. The international community has moved on—as our attention shifts to Syria and the refugee crisis—but the horrific suffering of the people of Darfur continues. Civilians are still fleeing, still dying, still trying to find peace.

The most recent violence has been in the mountain region of Jebel Marra in western Darfur. In January 2016, the Sudanese government launched a new series of attacks in the region against the Sudanese Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid (SLA/AW). Reports of these increased hostilities have been coming out of Jebel Marra for months, detailing hundreds of thousands displaced, and violence against civilians. As Amnesty International reports—and has been the case throughout most of the conflict in Darfur—civilians have been the direct targets of many of these attacks.

As if the people of Darfur have not suffered enough, Amnesty International now has evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra. The evidence is clear, and unbearable.

According to Amnesty’s Director of Crisis Research, Tirana Hassan, “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.”

There is a reason it is a war crime to use chemical weapons. The violence they inflict on the body is unconscionable. Exposure to these chemicals (sulphur mustard, Lewisite, nitrogen mustard, etc.) leads to vomiting blood, diarrhea, blindness, blistering and darkening of skin, and eventually one’s skin falling off. This is what is happening to civilians in Jebel Marra…mostly children.

As Amnesty interviewed survivors in the region, a man named Mouhaildin spoke of his three-year-old son:

“The attack affected the children. My son was left behind when everyone ran away. The bomb landed near to him. He was not injured but since the day of the attack he started coughing and had difficulty breathing, then he started vomiting and having diarrhea. Then his skin started falling off.”

Stories just like Mouhaildin’s fill Amnesty’s report, with the organization finding there have been nearly 30 suspected chemical weapon attacks since January, with the most recent occurring on September 9. As of now, somewhere between 200-250 civilians have been killed, with many more surviving but suffering the long-term effects of such chemicals.

According to Al Jazeera, not only has the Sudanese government denied any use of chemical weapons, it has also refused requests from UNAMID to enter the region to investigate. This denial is a continuation of Bashir’s belief in his impunity. The international community has failed to hold him to account for any of his previous war crimes; why should he be worried about this one?

Amnesty International is now calling on the United Nations to:

  • Apply sufficient political pressure on the Government of Sudan to ensure that peacekeepers and humanitarian agencies are allowed to access remote populations like that in Jebel Marra;
  • Ensure the current arms embargo is strictly implemented and extended to cover the whole country.
  • Urgently investigate the use of chemical weapons and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute all those suspected of responsibility.

We join Amnesty International in calling for action.

Sign the petition to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon

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.@UN_Geneva @UN_Spokesperson HC Zeid set up inquiry on @AmnestyOnline report on chemical weapons in #Sudan

Corrie Hulse is the Managing Editor of The Mantle. Her writing tackles the complicated intersection of politics and humanity, with a focus on the Responsibility to Protect.