Cluster bomb found in Tongoli, Delami county, April 2015.

(Nairobi) – Evidence indicates that Sudan dropped cluster bombs on civilian areas of Southern Kordofan’s Nuba Mountains in February and March 2015, Human Rights Watch said today. Cluster munitions are indiscriminate weapons banned under the Convention on Cluster Munitions that Sudan has yet to join.

“The evidence that Sudan’s army has used cluster bombs in Southern Kordofan shows the government’s total disregard for its own people and civilian life,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Sudan should immediately stop using these horrendous weapons, destroy its stockpiles, and respect the prohibition on cluster munitions by joining the Convention on Cluster Munitions.”

Sudan’s air force has repeatedly, indiscriminately bombed civilian areas, often killing or maiming civilians, destroying homes and crops, and damaging schools, clinics, and other civilian property, in the four years since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, Human Rights Watch research has found.

Human Rights Watch researchers visited Southern Kordofan in the first week of April 2015 and found evidence of six cluster bombs, including remnants of the weapons such as dud explosive submunitions, apparently dropped by government aircraft on villages in Delami and Um Durein counties. Witnesses said that government aircraft dropped two bombs in the village of Tongoli, in Delami county on March 6, and four others on the village of Rajeefi, in Um Durein county, in late February 2015. The attacks destroyed homes and other civilian property where they dropped in populated areas.

Human Rights Watch also confirmed that Sudan has continued to bomb civilian areas indiscriminately throughout the region. On April 4, Sudanese monitors reported that government Antonov aircraft had bombed Tongoli, killing seven people and injuring four, and that no rebel forces were in the area. Researchers also documented more than 15 bombings, some of them apparently purposefully directed onto civilian targets, which have killed or injured civilians and humanitarian workers since early 2014.

The government of Sudan should investigate and explain these incidents, in particular the alleged use of cluster munitions, as well as previous allegations of use of cluster munitions, Human Rights Watch said. In 2012, Human Rights Watch reported that Sudan had probably used cluster munitions in Southern Kordofan.  

Cluster munitions pose an immediate threat to civilians by scattering submunitions or bomblets over a wide area. They continue to pose a threat after a conflict ends by leaving remnants, including submunitions that fail to explode upon impact and become de facto landmines.

Since June 2011, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) has been fighting the Sudan People’s Liberation Army North (SPLA-N) in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, a conflict in which it has carried out persistent indiscriminate bombings and abuses against civilians. Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states border South Sudan, which gained independence in July 2011. Communities in both states were aligned with the southern rebels during Sudan’s 22-year civil war. The SPLA-N has no air force.

The cluster bombs Human Rights Watch found in April appear to be Soviet-made RBK-500 cluster bombs, containing AO-2.5 RT fragmentation submunitions, the same kind found in the region in 2012.

Sudanese officials have said that Sudan does not possess any stockpiles of cluster munitions, does not produce the weapon, and has never used cluster munitions. Although there is no indication that Sudan has manufactured the weapons, the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, an independent monitor on the use and impact of landmines and cluster munitions, noted that Sudan has apparently imported cluster munitions in the past from a number of countries. 

A total of 116 countries have joined the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits the use of cluster munitions. Under the convention, states parties are required to destroy their stockpiled cluster munitions within 8 years, clear contaminated land within 10 years, assist victims, and promote the convention with governments that have not joined.

At a meeting of the Convention on Cluster Munitions on April 19, 2012, a Sudan government representative rejected allegations that the government has used cluster munitions in Southern Kordofan and blamed the SPLA-N. A government representative said in a Cluster Munition Coalition meeting in April 2014 that Sudan could join the convention, if neighboring countries did so.

The Sudan government should investigate the cluster bomb incidents and immediately end its use of cluster munitions, Human Rights Watch said. It should also stop all prohibited attacks on civilians, including through indiscriminate aerial bombing of populated areas.

“In addition to continuing its bombing campaigns on civilian areas, the evidence suggests that Sudan is still using cluster bombs,” Bekele said. “The government needs to stop bombing civilians and stop dropping cluster bombs, which can endanger civilians for years to come.”