(New York) - Sudan's Government of National Unity should act to prevent a recurrence of clashes by military units and ensure justice for abuses committed in the Southern Sudanese town of Malakal in February 2009, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to President Omar al-Bashir and First Vice President Salva Kiir. The government's Joint Defense Board, which commands the military units that clashed in Malakal, is scheduled to meet in the last week of May.
Soldiers from the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) fought each other in Malakal on February 23, killing more than 30 civilians and as many soldiers, and causing displacement of civilians and damage to civilian property. Soldiers from both armies attacked civilians during and after the clash. Former militia now serving as SAF soldiers engaged in widespread looting and destruction of property, notably at the University of Upper Nile. The same forces previously clashed in November 2006, killing150 people.
"Malakal has become a flashpoint for violence, so the Joint Integrated Units should be moved out of town," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Failure to take these steps is a recipe for more violence and human rights abuses."
SAF and SPLA forces in Malakal together comprise the Joint Integrated Units, created under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the government of Sudan and the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army. Human Rights Watch called on the Joint Defense Board to relocate the forces out of town and to remove all abusive former militia from the Joint Integrated Units.
To date, the Government of National Unity and the Southern Sudan government have failed to investigate alleged crimes against civilians during and after the February clash.
Human Rights Watch research in Malakal in April found that soldiers in both armies violated international humanitarian and human rights laws during and after the clash. In one incident on February 23, an SAF tank fired indiscriminately on a civilian neighborhood, killing at least eight people who had gathered to drink tea. SPLA soldiers also committed violations, targeting civilians who appeared northern or whom they suspected of siding with the SAF. On February 25, SPLA soldiers killed six civilians in a residential compound.
Human Rights Watch urged judicial authorities in Southern Sudan to investigate and prosecute all alleged crimes committed during and after the clash, and the Joint Defense Board to order both militaries to cooperate with civilian authorities to ensure accountability for crimes committed by soldiers.
Human Rights Watch also called on the Government of National Unity, the United Nations Mission in Sudan, and donor governments to provide technical and material support to help the Joint Integrated Units to implement these steps.