Scorched Earth, Poisoned Air: Sudanese Government Forces Ravage Jebel Marra, Darfur

September 29, 2016

Scorched Earth, Poisoned Air: Sudanese Government Forces Ravage Jebel Marra, Darfur

An Amnesty International investigation has gathered horrific evidence of the repeated use of what are believed to be chemical weapons against civilians, including very young children, by Sudanese government forces in one of the most remote regions of Darfur over the past eight months.

Using satellite imagery, more than 200 in-depth interviews with survivors and expert analysis of dozens of appalling images showing babies and young children with terrible injuries, the investigation indicates that at least 30 likely chemical attacks have taken place in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur since January 2016. The most recent was on September 9.

“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 screaming with pain before dying; many photos show young children covered in lesions and blisters. Some were unable to breathe and vomiting blood,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Director of Crisis Research.

“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. The fact that Sudan’s government is now repeatedly using them against their own people simply cannot be ignored and demands action.”

Based on testimony from caregivers and survivors, Amnesty International estimates that between 200 and 250 people may have died as a result of exposure to the chemical weapons agents, with many – or most – being children.

Hundreds more survived attacks but in the hours and days after exposure to the chemicals developed symptoms including severe gastrointestinal conditions involving bloody vomiting and diarrhea; blistering and rashes on skin which reportedly hardened, changed color and fell off; eye problems including complete loss of vision; and respiratory problems which were reported to be the most common cause of death.

One woman in her twenties was injured by shrapnel when a bomb which omitted a toxic cloud of smoke fell inside her village. She and her baby became sick and six months later they are still suffering from the effects.

“When [the bomb] landed there was some flames and then dark smoke…Immediately it caused vomiting and dizzying…My skin is not normal. I still have headaches, even after I took the medicine…The baby is not recovering…he is swollen…he has blisters and wounds…they said he would get better…but it is not working.”

Another woman in her thirties was at home with her children in the village of Burro when it was attacked. She told Amnesty International that she saw several bombs discharge black smoke which then turned blue.

“Several bombs fell around the village and in the hills…Most of my kids are sick from the smoke of the bombardment…They got sick on the day of the attack…They vomited and they had diarrhea…They were coughing a lot…Their skin turned dark like it was burned.”

Many of the victims told Amnesty International that they had no access to medicine and were being treated using a combination of salt, limes and local herbs.

One man helped to care for many people in his village and neighboring villages who he believed had been exposed to chemicals. He told Amnesty International that he had been helping to care for victims of the conflict in Jebel Marra since it began in 2003 and had never seen anything like these ailments before.

Nineteen of those who he cared for died, including children, within a month of exposure. He said that all those who died experienced major changes to the skin. About half had wounds that turned green and the other half had skin fall off and weeping blisters appear. 

The chemical weapons agents were reportedly delivered by bombs dropped from planes and rockets. The vast majority of survivors reported that the smoke released when the bomb or rocket exploded changed color between five and 20 minutes after release. Most witnesses said it started very dark and then became lighter. Every survivor said that the smoke smelled noxious.