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Government forces in Sudan have committed war crimes against the civilian population of South Kordofan, Amnesty International has definitively confirmed for the first time in a new report published today.

The report, Don’t We Matter? Four Years of Unrelenting Attacks Against Civilians of Sudan’s South Kordofan State, chronicles the human cost of the conflict which has claimed hundreds of civilian lives and sparked a dire humanitarian crisis. It finds that indiscriminate aerial bombardments and ground offensives as well as the deliberate targeting of schools and hospitals constitute war crimes.

“For years Sudanese Armed Forces have been raining down bombs and shells indiscriminately on civilian populations, destroying lives and livelihoods and triggering a major humanitarian crisis,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s ‎Deputy Regional Director.

“Targeting civilian infrastructure and civilian areas which have no legitimate military objective, using prohibited weapons and other weapons in an indiscriminate way are war crimes. It is time for the international community to stop averting its gaze from South Kordofan and take urgent action to end this conflict.”

Conclusive evidence of war crimes

Based on a research mission to the country, Amnesty International has found that Sudanese Armed Forces have targeted civilian areas and infrastructure which have no legitimate military objective.

The use of prohibited weapons – such as cluster bombs – launched from high flying aircraft, has resulted in civilian casualties. Amnesty International found cluster munitions at four sites in two separate locations in Dalami and Umm Dorain counties and heard testimony of how children have been killed playing with unexploded ordinance.

Between January and April 2015, the Sudanese Air Force dropped more than 374 bombs on 60 locations across South Kordofan under the control of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N). The aerial bombardments and ground shelling over this period resulted in the deaths of at least 35 civilians, injured a further 70 individuals, and damaged civilian buildings including schools.

Since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, 26 health facilities (hospitals, clinics and health units) have been bombed in SPLA-N controlled areas, some of which were clearly identified with flags and crosses on their roofs. Only two out of four hospitals in SPLA-N controlled areas are still functioning.

Alfadil Khalifa Mohamed described to Amnesty International how an Antonov aircraft bombing raid killed his pregnant wife and unborn child in an IDP camp where they sought refuge in Dalami county on February 6.

“The bomb fell, only about ten meters from where she was standing. I ran to where she was, but she was already dead. Our baby was still alive. But there was no medical treatment available to save the baby’s life.”

The bombing campaign has left many afraid to work in their fields with devastating consequences for food security. The intensification of bombings during harvest time and the planting season raises concerns that this might be part of a deliberate strategy by the Sudanese government to hinder people’s ability to cultivate their crops.

Salha, an internally displaced person in Kimli IDP site, told Amnesty International researchers: “We haven’t planted anything for the past two years. We couldn’t because we had to run away. We are too afraid to work in our fields.”

Humanitarian crisis

The Sudanese government has refused to allow humanitarian relief into areas controlled by the SPLA-N exacerbating a protracted humanitarian crisis that has left the population without access to vaccinations and essential medicines. Children in SPLA-N controlled areas in South Kordofan are excluded from an ongoing UNICEF/WHO immunization campaign against measles in Sudan. Between May 2014 and January 2015 an outbreak of measles claimed the lives of at least 30 of these children in one hospital alone.

Massive displacement has left around one-third of South Kordofan’s population of approximately 1.4 million people internally displaced, living in precarious and insecure conditions. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, close to 100,000 people have fled to refugee camps in neighbouring South Sudan, itself wracked by internal conflict.

“We have been telling the world but nothing changes”

Despite the ongoing conflict, now in its fifth year, and escalation of attacks in recent months, the regional and international response has all but ceased. There has been no UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution on South Kordofan since 2012. Recent UNSC resolutions and statements failed to address concerns in South Kordofan. African Union (AU) efforts to mediate the conflict between the Government of Sudan and the SPLM-N, facilitated by the AU High-Level Implementation Panel, ground to a halt in December 2014.

Alfadil Khalifa Mohamed, told Amnesty International: “We have been telling the world for four years about what is happening to us. The facts are well known. But nothing changes.”

Amnesty International is calling on the UNSC and the AU Peace and Security Council, to put pressure on the Government of Sudan and SPLM-N to allow for unfettered humanitarian access in South Kordofan.

“This conflict has settled into a vicious deadlock and international bodies must urgently re-engage in order to end these grave human rights violations and war crimes and to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice,” said Michelle Kagari.

“War crimes cannot be allowed to be committed with impunity and a population facing a protracted humanitarian crisis can no longer be ignored by the world.”