(New York)- Sources on the ground indicate that the government of Sudan is indiscriminately bombing civilian-occupied villages in rebel-held North Darfur, Human Rights Watch said today. The bombing campaign comes as Khartoum is threatening to eject African Union peacekeepers and stymieing efforts to deploy a U.N. force to the region, and should trigger sanctions against senior Sudanese government officials.
“Government forces are bombing villages with blatant disregard for civilian lives,” said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “A penalty for indiscriminate bombing in Darfur is U.N. Security Council sanctions, which should be imposed now.”
Firsthand sources report flight crews rolling bombs out the back ramps of Antonovs, a means of targeting that was often practiced by government forces in their 21-year civil war with rebels in southern Sudan. This method is so inaccurate that it cannot strike at military targets without a substantial risk of harm to civilians. International humanitarian law prohibits such attacks, which can constitute war crimes. Deliberately attacking civilians is in all circumstances prohibited and a war crime.
Human Rights Watch specifically urged the Security Council to:
- Impose targeted sanctions on Sudanese government officials responsible for violations of international humanitarian law, as provided for by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1591; and
- Expand the limited arms embargo provided for by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1591 to cover all of Sudan, not just Darfur.
Offensive military overflights and breaches of international humanitarian law in Darfur are in direct violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1591 and are grounds for sanctions, which should include banning government officials from travel and freezing assets of those responsible. The government’s bombing campaign is part of an ongoing military offensive in North Darfur and follows mass deployment of government forces to the region, itself a violation of the resolution.
Reports on the recent bombardment in North Darfur indicate that it is wholly indiscriminate and deliberately fails to distinguish between rebels and civilians. Witnesses in combat zones in North Darfur say that Sudanese military aircraft only target a general area, which often includes people’s homes.
According to international observers in North Darfur, a woman was killed and seven children were wounded last week in Hassan, 5 kilometers southeast of Kulkul, when a bomb was dropped on her house. Another bomb nearly missed a school, leaving a crater 15 meters away. Evidence of indiscriminate bombing was also reported in the nearby villages of Abu Sakin and Telbo, where one bomb went through the wall of a house and came out the other side. Although the villages of Hassan, Abu Sakin and Telbo were considered to be under rebel control until they were seized by government forces in the recent fighting, one international observer said that the rebels did not have a permanent presence in the villages, but rather on their outskirts.
On Friday, September 1, Sam Ibok, the director of the AU Peace and Security Council, said that more than 20 civilians had been killed and more than 1,000 displaced as a result. International observers in North Darfur reported that civilians attempting to flee the Kulkul area in the direction of Fashir, the provincial capital, were turned back by Sudanese government troops.
“Khartoum clearly believes that it can defy U.N. Security Council resolutions and continue to kill civilians indiscriminately, in violation of international law,” said Takirambudde. “Now Khartoum appears determined to rid itself of international peacekeepers, so that there will be no protection for civilians.”
On September 3, the government’s Council of Ministers decided to ask the AU peacekeeping force to withdraw its 7,000-plus troops from Darfur at the end of September. The under-resourced AU force has been unable to prevent widespread abuses against civilians, but is the only international peacekeeping force in Darfur pending a proposed deployment of U.N. troops. On Monday, the AU announced that it would allow its mandate to expire and leave the region by the end of September, though it left open the possibility of an extension.
Khartoum, meanwhile, has blocked efforts to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 1706, passed on August 31, which calls for the AU force to be turned into a more robust U.N. protection force. The resolution, however, is conditional on Khartoum’s consent. The government has not only refused to give that consent; it has also warned the AU not to join forces with the U.N.
“Khartoum must not be allowed to kick out the African Union peacekeepers and block the deployment of U.N. troops,” said Takirambudde. “Given the ongoing offensive and the government’s track record of crimes against humanity, the Security Council must take all necessary measures to ensure there is no gap in protection for civilians in Darfur.”