In Sudan, civilian populations living in rebel-controlled areas in the Blue Nile State are being deliberately targeted by Sudanese military forces, Amnesty International reports.
These attacks, which include large-scale ground offensives and indiscriminate aerial bombings, suggest that the Sudanese government aims to clear the civilian population out of rebel-held areas as well as punish them for their perceived support of the rebels, the report explains.
A team of Amnesty’s researchers, visiting the conflict zone in April, talked to several refugees. Their interviews are testimonies of the horrors taking place under the military forces’ brutality. According to the researchers, an attack on 26 February near the village of Benamayo killed three children, including Dahia Yusuf Muhammed, age eight.
In an interview, Yusuf Fadil Muhammed, Dahia’s father said: “When I heard the sound of the [Soviet-era plane]Antonov I yelled to my children to lie down on the ground,[The Antonov] dropped a bomb, and I heard my wife cry out, ‘my child, my child, my child.’ The plane circled back and dropped two more bombs, and my neighbours yelled at me to get back down on the ground, to protect myself from the bombing. I said to them, ‘I can’t stay down; my child is dying.’”
Death from above
With the help of satellite pictures, Amnesty International provides damning proof of the destruction caused by the Sudanese army. Seen from the sky, images of bomb craters, thoroughly burned family-unit clusters known astukuls and destroyed mosques leave little doubt as to what caused the population to flee the area. In some cases, Sudanese armed forces establish defensive positions near, or in, the emptied villages.
Death from above, before/after slider of the destruction in Blue Nile State, Sudan
For Amnesty International, these actions “constitute war crimes—which, given their apparent widespread, as well as systematic, nature—may amount to crimes against humanity.”
The perilous road to safety
Fearing the army’s indiscriminate strikes, civilians either head to the wild or to refugees camps in South Sudan and Ethiopia.
Those who chose to hide in the wild face extremely precarious living conditions, “worsened significantly by the Sudanese government’s refusal to allow UN agencies and humanitarian aid organization to operate” in rebel areas.
Those heading to refugee camps take a huge risk, including encounters with roaming militias, hunger, thirst and exhaustion. The trip can last up to several weeks; many among the weakest (children, the elderly) don’t make it to the camps.
The report quotes Mado Lemko, from Soda, near Chali, who fled to South Sudan in April 2013 and says: “two people from our group died on the road. One was a young girl from the village of Beh, who was maybe five or six years old. We don’t know what she died of, but it was probably hunger, because we had no food to eat—for five days we only ate nuts. The other was a woman from Chali. A dog had bitten her on the hand, and she died before she could get treatment.”
Some 150,000 people from Blue Nile state now populate refugee camps in the Upper Nile State of South Sudan and in neighboring Ethiopia. There, in addition to the dire conditions, they must face the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLA-N) groups.
“Many NGO workers described the SPLA-N trucks that food and supplies are loaded onto and carried away. This ‘taxation’, as people call it, typically happens on the days immediately following the monthly aid distribution in the camps,” the researchers write. SPLA-N groups also recruit, sometimes forcefully, young men arriving in the refugee camps.