Sudan: Satellite images of indiscriminate bombing reveal potential war crime in Southern Kordofan

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June 24, 2014

Sudan: Satellite images of indiscriminate bombing reveal potential war crime in Southern Kordofan

Attacks on civilian areas, including indiscriminate aerial bombardments by Sudan’s government forces, have resulted in increased destruction in Southern Kordofan and may constitute a war crime, Amnesty International said in a new briefing published today

The armed conflict – which began three years ago – has intensified following the launch of a new military operation by Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) on 14 April. Satellite images secured by Amnesty International during that period offer further evidence of indiscriminate aerial bombardments and correspond to reports that homes, markets, hospitals and schools have been bombed. 

“The evidence captured in these images taken over a sustained period in May corresponds to numerous reports of attacks on civilian areas that are not only a clear violation of international humanitarian law but may also constitute a war crime,” said Michelle Kagari, Deputy Regional Director for Eastern Africa at Amnesty International. 

The recent intensification of fighting between SAF and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), has been accompanied by sustained indiscriminate aerial bombardments by the SAF in civilian areas including in Heiban Um Dorein and Delami counties. 

These aerial attacks often use unguided weapons such as barrel bombs which are rolled out manually from aircraft, and parachute-retarded bombs launched from aircraft at high altitudes, causing extensive damage to civilian areas. 

Between 15 and 22 May, human rights monitors documented over 200 bombs dropped over Tangal, in Um Dorein County. On 26 and 28 May, 33 bombs were reportedly dropped on Kauda, a town with no known military presence, damaging homes and other buildings, including the office of a local NGO. 

Analysis of satellite images of Kauda taken between 20 and 31 May shows craters and burn scars measuring up to 20 metres in diameter. In the most populous southern area of Kauda, 17 such craters were created over the 11-day observation period. 

The months of May to August are the key planting season in Southern Kordofan. By intensifying attacks during this time and at harvest, the SAF are hindering people’s ability to cultivate their fields. This in turn contributes to an already acute situation of food insecurity. Over the last three years, Amnesty International has documented a pattern of attacks during these months. The Sudanese government continues to block humanitarian assistance to civilians in opposition-held areas, placing civilians in an extremely precarious situation. 

“After three years of conflict the people of Southern Kordofan, already desperately vulnerable to hunger and disease, are facing a looming humanitarian catastrophe,” said Michelle Kagari. 

Amnesty International is calling on the government of Sudan to immediately end indiscriminate ground attacks and indiscriminate aerial bombardments in civilian areas and to urgently grant access to humanitarian organizations. 

“The world has watched this conflict unfold from the sidelines. The time has now come for the international community to ensure that the government of Sudan ends its indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas which are causing suffering on a massive scale.”   

Background 

On 14 April 2014, the Sudanese government publicly launched its “Decisive Summer” military operation to “end all rebellion in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur”, which includes deploying the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) as support for the Sudanese Armed Forces. 

Failure to distinguish between civilians and combatants is a breach of the fundamental “principle of distinction” under international humanitarian law. It is a war crime to intentionally direct attacks against civilians or civilian objects. 

The SPLM-N reported that 90,000 people were displaced within Southern Kordofan in May, adding to the reported 800,000 people displaced or otherwise affected by the conflict in SPLM-N areas since the start of the conflict.  

Amnesty International is calling on the government of Sudan to:

  • Cease immediately all violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile including indiscriminate aerial bombardments in civilian areas, and deliberate attacks against civilians and civilian objects;
  • Take all necessary precautions in all attacks in order to protect civilians, including by warning civilians of impending attacks on military objectives;
  • Grant immediate and unhindered access to UN agencies and international humanitarian organizations to all areas of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan to facilitate the urgent provision of all necessary assistance to civilians affected by the conflict, including food, shelter and medical care;
  • Initiate prompt, effective and impartial investigations into violations of international human rights and humanitarian law and bring those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice before ordinary civilian courts in fair trials, without the death penalty.